Oklahoma’s Choctaw Horses Connect to Mississippi

Choctaw horses. (Photo Credit: returntofreedom.org)

Associated Press

POPLARVILLE, Miss. (AP) _ Six foals sired by a cream-colored stallion called DeSoto scamper across a pasture in southwest Mississippi _ the first new blood in a century for a line of horses brought to America by Spanish conquistadors and bred by Choctaw Indians who were later forced out of their ancestral homelands.

Choctaw horses were thought to be long gone from this region, disappearing when their Native American owners were expelled from the U.S. Southeast by the government. But the surprise discovery of DeSoto on a farm in Poplarville 13 years ago led to a plan to help the dwindling strain survive.

``That really gives us a shot in the arm,'' said Bryant Rickman, who has been working since 1980 near Antlers, Oklahoma, to restore the line. He estimates he has bred more than 300 of the horses from nine mares and three stallions. But having so few stallions led to a bottleneck, because the gene pool was so small.

Choctaws saw great power in horses. Ian Thompson, tribal historic preservation officer for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said their word for horse, issoba, means ``like a deer'' _ and the deer was the tribe's most important animal, both economically and spiritually.

``So naming the horse after the deer was really saying something,'' Thompson said.

Choctaw horses are descended from those brought to the United States in the 1500s and later by Spanish explorers and colonists, said Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

It's one strain in a breed called Colonial Spanish horses, often referred to by the misleading term ``Spanish mustang.'' Colonial Spanish horses are among the world's few genetically unique horse breeds, and are of great historic importance to this country, Sponenberg said.

The Choctaw nation lived in much of what are now Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Choctaws owned tens of thousands of horses by 1830, when Congress gave President Andrew Jackson the power to force Indians out of lands east of the Mississippi, Thompson said.

The relocation of Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee, and Seminole Indians to Oklahoma, which has come to be known as the ``Trail of Tears,'' took decades. Thompson said more than 12,000 Choctaw people made the journey but an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 died along the way. In Oklahoma, the Choctaw and their horses were part of the cattle-ranching economy.

The horses are small but tough and durable.

``They're very people-oriented. They're just as docile as your favorite dog,'' said Rickman.

DeSoto was discovered in 2005 when Sponenberg visited Poplarville to check out small cattle descended from Spanish colonial stock. He was surprised to find Spanish colonial sheep, there, too. Then came the day's biggest surprise.

``Out of the woods came this horse, single-footing,'' he said, referring to a smooth gait between walking and galloping, rather than the bouncing trot common to most horses.

Bill Frank Brown was 14 when he inherited the Poplarville farm that Sponenberg visited in 2005. The farm had been in Brown's family since 1881 and the livestock there, even longer. Brown had three stallions back then, including DeSoto. He called them pine tacky horses. The Texas A&M veterinary school tested samples of the stallions' DNA, and they matched those of Rickman's Choctaws.

Two of the stallions have since died, leaving only DeSoto. Sponenberg picked the mares that would be the best genetic matches for DeSoto, and they were brought to Mississippi last year. The Browns say some of the offspring will remain in Mississippi while others will go back to Oklahoma, along with pregnant mares.


Bass Pro Shops Pulls Trail of Tears Rifle Amid Complaints

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Bass Pro Shops pulled a used 1978 Winchester rifle commemorating the Cherokee Trail of Tears from one of its Arkansas store's shelves and apologized to the tribe after a photo of the gun led to calls to boycott the outdoor gear chain.

A customer in Rogers, Arkansas, posted photos of the rifle on Twitter, leading to accusations that Bass Pro was profiting from the tragic forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation that began in 1838. More than 4,000 Cherokee died during the more than 1,000-mile walk to what is now Oklahoma in what is known as the Trail of Tears.

The company's communications director, Jack Wlezien, told The Tulsa World that the rifle was acquired from a trade-in and is not part of the store's standard stock.

``It's a niche product that came in on a trade,'' Wlezien said. ``As you can imagine, there are a wide range of firearms traded on a regular basis, and there wasn't much deep consideration about the individual gun from a merchandising standpoint by our (sales) associate, but now we are taking steps to be sure we're dealing with it appropriately.''

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. applauded the company's decision to remove the rifle and ``for using the incident as a teaching moment.''

``The story of the Trail of Tears is one of survival and the ability to adapt and survive in unimaginable circumstances,'' he said. ``We hope in today's environment companies will reach out to Native tribes to better understand our history.''

The Tulsa World reported that according to the website winchestercollector.org, a .30-30 or .22-caliber Winchester Model 1894 ``Cherokee Carbine'' that matches the image of the Bass Pro Shops rifle was one of dozens of Winchester rifles manufactured from 1964 to 2006 that annually commemorated people and historic events, including Bat Masterson, John Wayne and the purchase of Alaska from Russia.


Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com


Program for Tribes to Access Crime Databases Expanding

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) _ A federal program for Native American tribes to access national crime information databases is expanding.

The number of participants in the Tribal Access Program is expected to rise from 47 to 72 by the end of 2019.

The tribes can use the databases to do background checks, and see outstanding warrants and domestic violence protection orders.

The U.S. Justice Department and the Department of the Interior said Monday the expansion will help solve crimes and make communities safer.

The Justice Department provides funding for either kiosks that can process prints, take mug shots and submit records or for computer software.

Three of the 25 tribes that are part of the expansion are in Arizona. Others are in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

Cherokee Nation Responds to Senator Warren’s DNA Test

Chuck Hoskin Jr.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. issued the following statement Monday in response to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test claiming Native Heritage:

"A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America," Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. "Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation. Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage."

To learn more about the Cherokee Nation, visit www.cherokee.org


Virginia's Indian Tribes Celebrate Federal Recognition

Daily Press

WEROWOCOMOCO, Va. (AP) _ On land once occupied by their ancestors, members of seven Virginia Indian tribes gathered Wednesday to celebrate being formally recognized by the federal government.

It was an emotional day for tribal leaders, who partook in traditional Native American dances with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, representatives from the Virginia governor's and U.S. Senate's offices, and officials from the National Park Service.

``It's been a long time coming,'' Nansemond Chief Lee Lockamy said on the grounds of Werowocomoco, the former home of Chief Powhatan and Pocahontas, in Gloucester.

The elected officials, whose crisp suits looked out of place next to the colorful regalia worn by tribal members, called the recognition _ which makes the tribes eligible for federal funding and services_ long overdue.

``We all sometimes lamented and said, `Is this ever going to happen?' `` Wittman said. ``Through faith, through dedication, today is indeed here.''

The Pamunkey, Chickahominy, Chickahominy Eastern Division, Monacan, Nansemond, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi tribes have been trying to get federal recognition for decades, both through bills and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In 2015, the Pamunkey became the first in the state to receive federal recognition from the bureau. The effort involved painstakingly assembling the documentation needed to meet seven standards set by the government, including extensive genealogical records showing that their current members descended from the historical tribe.

That federal recognition paved the way, in part, for the Pamunkey to get into the gaming business and to plan a $700 million casino on land approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that was once part of Pamunkey territory.

The federal recognition of the six other tribes came through the signing of the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act, spearheaded by Wittman and signed into law in January.

Unlike the Pamunkey, those six tribes are specifically barred from launching gambling enterprises. But they're still eligible for steps like taking back historical and cultural tribal artifacts, consulting on federal agency actions and receiving federal funds for housing, education and medical care.

Zinke, who was appointed to his position in 2017, said he wanted to make sure the government is in partnership with the tribes.

``My job is to make sure the tribes are sovereign. And sovereignty means something _ that the destiny of every nation is theirs to decide. And in many ways, it's to get the government out of the way so the tribes can decide.''

For Rappahannock Chief Anne Richardson, it felt good to finally see the work of generations of tribal members come to fruition.

``This is liberty for us. This is justice for us,'' she said. ``And we're finally seeing the promises that are inherent in our constitution that we've been left out of all these years.''


Information from: Daily Press, http://www.dailypress.com/


7 People Sentenced in Colorado Tribe's Financial Scam Case

CORTEZ, Colo. (AP) _ The U.S. attorney's office says seven people have been sentenced in a financial scam case that resulted in $1.1 million in federal funds found stolen from the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.

The Cortez Journal reports 13 people have pleaded guilty to charges related to the scam that involved employees of the tribe's Financial Services Department who fraudulently dispersed checks to people they selected between 2011 and 2015.

According to court documents, the people who received the checks, including non-tribal members and inmates, would cash them, and then usually share the cash with the employees.

The sentences handed down this summer in federal court in Durango ranged from 15 months in prison to years of probation. All were ordered to pay restitution in amounts that ranged from $22,000 to $142,000.


Information from: Cortez Journal, http://www.cortezjournal.com/


Bismarck's New Police Chief Looks to the Future

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ For Bismarck's new police chief, law enforcement is in his blood.

Dave Draovitch has worked his way up through the ranks to the Bismarck department's top spot, just like his father did in Minot years ago, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

``This is all I've really known, as far back as I can remember, is being around law enforcement,'' he said.

Draovitch has spent nearly three decades with the department, working from police officer to K-9 handler to sergeant, until 2013 when he became deputy chief. The Bismarck City Commission offered him the top police job last month.

``From (an) internal (appointment) like Dave, you've got a very good knowledge and understanding of the complete setup of the agency, all the employees and positions they're working,'' said Dan Donlin, the former police chief.

Donlin said one adjustment to being chief is to build relationship with city administration and department leaders, and taking care of employees while being available to residents.

``I know he'll do a good job,'' he said.

Draovitch said some of his goals in the new position include addressing disproportionate contact with minorities and remaining engaged with youth. He said he's also reached out to leaders in the local Native American community to hear their concerns.

``I think it's a powerful practice to reflect on what we're doing, and I think it's important to recognize the minority groups that we have in the community and make sure that we are serving them to the same level as we're serving everyone in our community,'' said City Commissioner Shawn Oban, who calls the focus on Native Americans ``vitally important.''


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com


Kah-Nee-Ta Resort Will Close Wednesday

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ The tribal-owned and operated Kah-nee-ta Resort & Spa will close for good Wednesday.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Tribal Council voted last week to move forward with a plan to close the resort, ending speculation that the tribes could find a way to keep the facility and its 146 workers in business.

The golf course will also close.

The resort sits on the Warm Springs Reservation 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of Bend. The confederated tribes include 5,300 members from the Warm Springs, Wasco, and Paiute tribes.

According to a statement from the tribal government, the decision to close the resort was far from unanimous among the 11-member tribal council. Three members voted yes, five abstained from voting and the chairman did not vote.


Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com


Kah-Nee-Ta Resort to Close, 146 Employees to Lose Jobs

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ One of Oregon's biggest resorts is set to close this summer and 146 employees will lose their jobs.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and Spa, which operates on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon, announced Friday that it will shutter all operations Sept. 5.

An announcement sent from interim general manager Marie Kay Williams says the decision came as the ``the resort cannot continue operating below a self-sustaining level.''

She wrote that closing the resort is necessary to protect the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs from further financial risk.

With the closing of the resort, 146 employees will be laid off. That includes spa, restaurant, maintenance, room service and administrative workers.

Williams didn't return calls for comment on the decision.


Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com

Marker Honors Native Americans Who Drove Out the KKK

MAXTON, N.C. (AP) _ North Carolina's latest historical highway marker commemorates the Lumbee Tribe driving the Ku Klux Klan out of their county in 1958.

The Robesonian reports the Battle of Hayes Pond sign was dedicated Thursday, during the 50th Annual Lumbee Homecoming in Robeson County.

The marker honors the confrontation between the Lumbee and Klansmen who showed up for a rally on a January day 60 years ago. The outnumbered Klansmen fled in the face of gunfire from the Lumbee. There were no casualties on either side.

The marker idea was proposed by students at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, who sought the tribe's approval before proceeding.

Thursday's dedication was attended by Woodrow Dial, who was 17 when he accompanied his father to confront the KKK.


Information from: The Robesonian, http://www.robesonian.com

This post will remain active until August, 29, 2018

Environmental groups complain about Atlantic Coast Pipeline

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ A coalition says North Carolina failed to protect the civil rights of residents of color when it approved permits for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The groups want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's civil rights division to require the state Department of Environmental Quality to rescind the permits and perform a more thorough analysis.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported first on their complaint, which accuses the state and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of failing to consider the health and environmental impact. It also says the state obscured the route's disproportionate impact on blacks and Native Americans by comparing demographics within a mile of the pipeline to the rest of each county, rather than the rest of the state.

``The State agencies appear to have relied on FERC's flawed analysis of environmental justice without any separate analysis,'' the groups said in the letter. ``Just because there is a low population concentration does not mean people of low income or people of color would not be disproportionately impacted.''

The letter also noted FERC and the state failed to compare the preferred route with alternatives, noting that a route under early consideration would have passed through ``wealthier and predominantly white communities near Raleigh'' as the $5 billion project carries fracked natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina.

FBI offering reward in Pine Ridge killing investigation

PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) _ The FBI is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information in a slaying on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation last fall.

Twenty-four-year-old Raymond Waters Jr. was found dead inside a burned mobile home in Allen on Oct. 16. The FBI says an autopsy concluded he had died before the fire, likely from ax blows, and the fire might have been an act of arson intended to conceal the killing.

The Rapid City Journal reports a juvenile has been charged with second-degree murder in Ray's death. Water's uncle, 45-year-old Nathaniel Waters, was charged in March with being an accessory and lying to federal investigators. He has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities have not said if they are seeking additional suspects.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

Irish prime minister thanks Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma

DURANT, Okla. (AP) _ The prime minister of Ireland has visited members of a Native American tribe in Oklahoma to thank them for a gift sent 171 years ago.

Members of the Choctaw Nation collected $170 in 1847 and sent it to Dublin to help feed the Irish during a potato famine. The money would be worth about $4,400 today.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar met with tribal members in the southern Oklahoma city of Durant as part of a weeklong trip to the U.S. He said the gift is a sacred memory and bond.

The gathering included Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who said she was supporting the Choctaw Nation and Oklahomans.

Choctaw Chief Gary Batton visited Ireland last year to attend the unveiling of a sculpture called Kindred Spirits that commemorates the relationship between the tribe and Ireland.

New Mexico teacher develops braille code for Navajo

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) _ A public school teacher in a New Mexico town situated near the country's largest American Indian reservation has developed a braille code for the Navajo language.

Carol Green, who began developing vision problems as a child and is now a teacher for blind and visually impaired students in Farmington, developed a system of raised dots that enables people to read and write the Navajo language through touch, The Daily Times reported .

The Navajo braille is based off the English code but it eliminates certain letters. The new braille also adds a prefix code for vowels and how to pronounce them.

``The advantage of having this code for the reader is that they can distinguish and pronounce everything properly,'' Green said.

Learning the basics of the Navajo language from her grandparents, Green said that exposure started a lifelong interest in learning more of the language.

Green learned how to read and write braille in 2009 after her vision continued to deteriorate. Green said that she wanted to advance her learning of the Navajo language, so she inquired with the Braille Authority of North America in 2013 to discover a braille code for Navajo did not exist.

Green went to work and developed the first code for Navajo.

Before joining the Farmington Municipal School District in 2010, Green also taught at schools in Shiprock and Red Mesa, Arizona.

Green also created the new braille code so the Navajo students she teaches could have an opportunity to learn the language, she said.

``I thought if I am going to develop it for myself, then I might as well share it so these children have that opportunity. The same as their peers,'' Green said.

In a resolution approved in October 2015, the Navajo Nation Board of Education adopted the Navajo braille code to teach to blind and visually impaired tribal members.


Information from: The Daily Times, http://www.daily-times.com

Native American identity absent from urban Oklahoma schools

The Oklahoman

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Most of Oklahoma's nearly 130,000 Native American students attend school in small towns, often in communities where their tribe's history is woven into the town's patchwork.

But for the 20 percent of Native students who attend a school in the state's two largest metro areas, cultural connections can be harder to find, especially when it comes to a specific identity.

``Our Native program doesn't include Native language because I have 77 tribes represented (throughout the district), so if I pick one language someone is going to be upset or left out,'' said Star Yellowfish, director of Native American student services for Oklahoma City Public Schools.

The state Department of Education counts more than 1,100 American Indian students in the Oklahoma City school district. But that number represents students with a variety of different tribal affiliations, the largest being Choctaw, Cherokee and Creek.

While Oklahoma City schools have more Native students than most districts, those students are spread out among nearly 100 schools, which can make it tough for a student to see others who share the same cultural identity.

Connecting Native students with each other can be especially important in an urban school system, said George Shields, director of Indian Education for Putnam City Schools.

``In a rural setting, a lot of Native kids are going to get to see grandma and grandpa, uncles and aunts, and feel more connected to their family and their heritage,'' Shields said. ``Our kids don't get that. A lot of the (Native American) families in my district have moved here for a job and it might involve taking that student out of their culture.''

School districts with Indian Education programs, like Putnam City, often provide tutoring, mentoring, test preparation workshops and cultural classes for Native American students.

Districts use parent committees and advisory groups to make decisions on how to disburse funding from Title VI and the federal Johnson-O'Malley Program.

However, some of the federal funding was frozen based on Native American student counts in 1994, even though most school districts in the area have seen their Native American student populations significantly increase since then.

The adjustment to a large urban school is a challenge for some Native American families, especially if the parents' own experience was attending a tribal school when they were younger.

Sheril Thompson, director of Indian Education for the Mid-Del school district, said she often works with Native American families who recently moved to the city and struggle with getting acclimated.

``A lot of your rural schools are sitting in a tribe and they have so many resources right there. Whereas we are up here with not a whole lot,'' Thompson said.

Jillian Palomino, who is Cherokee, is one of around 55 Native American students at Del City High School. But she said it's hard to know those other students because of the school's large size.

``I'm sure if I lived in Tahlequah my heritage would be more of a part of my life,'' said Palomino, referring to the capital city of the Cherokee Nation. ``But being here in the city it's not as much a part of your life.''

Logan Seeley, a senior at Carl Albert High School who is Choctaw, said he'd like to see his classes go deeper with Native American history, especially in a community where there aren't as many chances to learn about the culture outside of school.

His great grandfather's skin was dark and he faced racism because of it. Logan wants to know that history and he wants to learn it in the classroom.

``In Oklahoma history we went over how tribes got here, but that's about it,'' Seeley said.

Phil Gover grew up in the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in Nevada and he now wants to create a school in Oklahoma City that not only teaches Native American history, but incorporates a Native perspective in all curriculum areas.

``We have a critical mass of Native students in the city that we can serve with a very different take on curriculum and content,'' said Gover, who is leading an effort to launch the Sovereign Community School.

Gover's group is awaiting a response from the Oklahoma City Public Schools after filing an application to open the proposed charter school in 2019, the Oklahoman reported . The application sets a goal to serve 500 mostly Native students within a few years of opening.

``Underlying our school is the notion that Native students will learn better because they are given access to a curriculum that shows Native people in classes outside of history,'' Gover said. ``We are going to read awesome books in our literature class, but we are going to read books by Native people that talk about Native experiences.

``The real idea is you see yourself reflected in the things you are learning about and that raises your engagement.''

Nationally, American Indian students are often highlighted as an academically underachieving student group, especially within the federal government's Bureau of Indian Education school network, where many students have had to overcome generations of forced disenfranchisement.

But there is evidence American Indian students in Oklahoma's public school system perform well, especially compared to other states.

In early 2017, the state Department of Education highlighted Oklahoma's nation-leading scores in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading for Native students.

In Mid-Del schools, Thompson said over 200 of the district's Native students participate in a gifted and talented program.

The Oklahoma Indian Student Honor Society is a program that not only celebrates academic success among Native American students, but it also offers a chance for students to connect with their heritage in deeper ways, Thompson said.

``In order to get cultural points for the Oklahoma Indian Student Honor Society, many of our (Native) students go out and read to our elementary school kids ... from culturally relevant books the district purchased,'' Thompson said.

Gover said the challenge many Native students in an urban school system face is connecting to their cultural identity, rather than conforming to the world around them.

``Among urban Indians, at least this was my experience ... if you are not already very closely tied to your culture (when you enter school) it can be really hard to keep that part of you,'' Gover said. ``Everything about our system and our schools ... pressures them to conform, to assimilate, to become less like their cultural identity is and become more of the mainstream culture.''

Gover hopes he can prevent a whole new generation from losing their Native American culture, especially those growing up in Oklahoma City.


Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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