By Karen Stokes
The Native American community faces many challenges but are fighting to shape their future.
On Saturday, May 8, the United Nations Association of Milwaukee hosted a panel of Native American experts, moderated by Pam Richard to discuss issues facing their community.
Issues discussed included Native American sovereignty, protecting land, air and water, missing and murdered Indigenous women and climate justice.
The U.S Department of Justice found that American Indian women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average. The majority of these murders are committed by non-Native people on Native-owned land.
As of 2016, the National Crime Information Center has reported 5,712 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls.
Many are working to increase awareness of disproportionate violence experienced by Indigenous Canadian and Native American women through the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women organization (MMIW).
Morning Star Gali is one of those working to raise awareness. Morning Star Gali is a member of the Pit River Tribe located in Northeastern California. Gali serves as the project director for Restoring Justice for Indigenous Peoples (RJIP) and as the California Tribal and Community Liaison for the International Indian Treaty Council.
“In the past few months, a lot of work has been done for MMIW,” Gali said. “We do a lot of work to support families. We hold vigils and we give support at court. The families are not receiving justice in the way they feel is needed.”
On April 24, a river walk and a prayer walk were held for California Native women, genocide, incarceration and the enslavement of tribal people. The event took place in the Sacramento area.
“It was significant in recognizing the historical aspect behind MMIW,” Gali said. “For us here in the U.S. the movement is fairly new. It started throughout Canada then we expanded it.”
Gali said people can get involved through community workshops, training and more importantly mobilize volunteer search groups because the first 24-48 hours are crucial when a loved one goes missing.
Guy Reiter, whose Menominee name is Anahkwet, is executive director of Menīkānaehkem, Inc., a grassroots organization based on the Menominee Reservation.
“Menīkānaehkem is on the Menominee Reservation. We have an 80-acre farm where we grow food to feed our community,” Anahkwet said. “We are just in the process of representing the tribe for the Intertribal Buffalo Council where we will have buffalo reintroduced to our land. We are also involved in energy sovereignty. The whole farm is powered by solar panels. We will also be building tiny homes on the reservation because there is a housing crisis.”
The Back Forty Mine is a proposed open-pit gold and zinc mine located in Menominee County in the South Central part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The mine is estimated to produce 512 million pounds of zinc and 468 thousand ounces of gold.
“It’s never operated as a mine, it’s history if they get their permits, which I don’t think they will,” said Anahkwet. “The project is located 150 feet from the banks of the Menominee River. Sulfide mining is the dirtiest mining. It will always pollute the environment. Its chemistry adds air and water to sulfide, which creates sulfuric acid.”
Along with the Menominee Indian tribe, a nonprofit coalition to save the Menominee River and local landowners are also contesting the permits, according to Anahkwet.
“I’m optimistic we will be successful,” Anahkwet said.
President Joe Biden’s nomination of U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico to lead the Department of the Interior is historic on many levels. She was one of the first Native American women elected to Congress and is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo.
“She’s a major help to a lot of tribes and people,” Anahkwet said.
The importance of language cannot be underestimated. The movement to reclaim and preserve Native American languages has been underway since the Civil Rights era.
“The English language and the American values are very individualistic,” Gali said. “When we are chosen to look through the individualistic lens, those values of white supremacy and capitalism are intertwined in resource extraction of our communities and our peoples.”
Anahkwet added, “This language that I am speaking right now (English) is a foreign language. It doesn’t come from here. It has a hard time describing very basic things in our language. It (English) is a really pitiful language. I wish I could speak in our language so you could understand so you would know how amazing our language is and all of our indigenous languages.”
He continued, “People don’t know us and all that our tribes have been through from genocide to forced relocation to boarding schools.”
“We’re survivors, we know what to do. It ain’t gonna come from the white man or the Black man or yellow man, it’s gonna come from who we are as a people. We don’t need help understanding ourselves as Menominee People. We’re still here, we’re still speaking our language and still standing on the shoulders of our ancestors,” Anahkwet said.