Supreme Court’s ruling against North Dakota Natives may decide the Senate

In a critical decision that may very well effect control of the US Senate, the US Supreme Court today rejected an emergency appeal by Native Americans in North Dakota regarding their ability to vote in November.

Control of the Senate is up for grabs in this election. North Dakota is one of the key battleground states. At the moment, experts predict a very tight race. They currently forecast that the Republican challenger Kevin Cramer will edge Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp 51% to 29%, or just 7,500 votes out of 300,000 votes cast.

NDelectiondiagramNorth Dakota is a red state, going overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. There are just two counties that went blue. They weren’t the cities; they were the Standing Rock and Turtle Mountain Indian Reservations. Furthermore, some of these areas went 90% for Democrats. Indian reservations are blue islands on a red prairie.


Typical Native ID card in North Dakota, with PO Box but no street address.

The North Dakota governor and legislature understands this all too well. After the battle at Standing Rock over the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which included anti-Native racial confrontations in Bismarck and left feelings raw, North Dakota’s rulers found the perfect solution. To combat “voter fraud”, they passed a law requiring voters to have an official identification card (e.g. driver’s license or tribal id card) with your residential street address on it. As the Native American Rights Fund explained, “While North Dakota claims that tribal IDs qualify under its law, most tribal IDs do not have a residential address printed on them.  This is due, in part, to the fact that the U.S. postal service does not provide residential delivery in these rural Indian communities.  Thus, most tribal members use a PO Box.  If a tribal ID has an address, it is typically the PO Box address, which does not satisfy North Dakota’s restrictive voter ID law.” If you’ve ever tried to use Google Maps on a reservation, you’ll know what they’re talking about.

As explained in this blog post from last month, the Native American Rights Fund, led be attorney John Echohawk (Pawnee), appealed to the District Court and won. However, this was appealed to the Eighth District Court of Appeals, and overturned by a 2-1 vote. Last week, the Natives appealed to the US Supreme Court for an emergency stay, arguing that:

  • Early voting had already begun;
  • Changing the rules again would cause confusion;
  • The new ruling would affect 5,000 Natives without qualifying id (and 2,300 of them without even supporting id), preventing them from voting.

The case documents are available here.

  • Echohawk’s eloquent and compelling petition to the court can be found here.
  • North Dakota’s reply is here.
  • Echohawk’s final rebuttal is here.

Promotional sign in North Dakota, claiming that voting is “easy as pie”.

On October 9, the Native’s emergency appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court. Because it was an emergency appeal, we do not know the vote. We do know that Justice Gorsuch issued the rejection, without an explanation, and thus voted for the rejection. We also know that Justices Ginsberg and Kagan voted for the Natives and wrote a dissenting opinion. And we know that Kavanaugh did not participate. But even with a 4-4 vote, the Eight District Court’s rejection of the Natives would be upheld.

And thus the Supreme Court has already played a critical role in November’s election.




Here is the advice that @NDNativeVote is giving for those that do not have any documents with their street address or who may not even know what their street address is:

  1. Call the North Dakota Association of Counties and ask for the phone number of the 911 Coordinator for your county.  A list of 911 Coordinators by county is also available here.  For Rolette County (Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation), the 911 Coordinator is Curt Bonn, 701-477-0911, For Sioux County (Standing Rock Indian Reservation), the 911 Coordinator is Frank Landeis, 701-854-3481,
  2. Call the 911 Coordinator for your county and describe the location of your home.
  3. They will assign you an address and send you a letter confirming your address.
  4. When the letter arrives, take it to the local DMV (which may be 75 miles away if you’re on a reservation), pay $8, and get a state ID with your address on it (no estimate of when that will arrive).
  5. If you already have an ID with your PO Box on it, you can use the 911 letter as supplemental documentation.
  6. It’s also possible that, in your county, the 911 Coordinator does not assign addresses, but they will be able to direct you to the person who does.

Easy as pie. Election day is November 6.

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, here is an official statement from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe:


BREAKING NEWS ON OCTOBER 18: ND tribes will issue the necessary ID at the polling stations.



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Vote– except if you’re a Native in North Dakota

After Standing Rock, Republicans in the “Deep North” are taking no chances. In April, the Republican-dominated North Dakota legislature passed, and the Republican governor signed, a bill that required voter identification to include a residential street address.

As the Native American Rights Fund explained, “While North Dakota claims that tribal IDs qualify under its law, most tribal IDs do not have a residential address printed on them.  This is due, in part, to the fact that the U.S. postal service does not provide residential delivery in these rural Indian communities.  Thus, most tribal members use a PO Box.  If a tribal ID has an address, it is typically the PO Box address, which does not satisfy North Dakota’s restrictive voter ID law.”

The bill was clearly crafted to disenfranchise Natives at Standing Rock and Turtle Mountain. Like so many reservations, they are blue islands in a red prairie when it comes to elections.


North Dakota election returns, 2016, by county.  Sioux County (84% Native American; 75% for Clinton) is at the bottom.  The blue county at the top is Rolette (77% Native American; 63% for Clinton).  North Dakota as a whole went 70-30 for Trump.

The law was immediately challenged by Native groups, ultimately putting the decision up to various federal judges, all of them older white men appointed by Republican presidents. The first, U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland, appointed in 2002 by George W. Bush, blocked the bill, stating, “The undisputed evidence before the court reveals that Native Americans face substantial and disproportionate burdens in obtaining each form of ID deemed acceptable under the new law…. One reason is that many Native Americans do not have residential addresses, and the Post Office delivers their mail to a post office box.” He also attacked the purported rationale for the law, writing that “voter fraud in North Dakota has been virtually non-existent.”

On Monday, September 24, Judge Hovland’s exemplary judicial independence was overturned by a three-judge panel of his colleagues, representing the Eighth District Court of Appeals.  This will effectively disqualify about half of the Native Americans on reservations in North Dakota. In a crass and blatantly politicized argument, the court essentially acknowledged that these Natives would be prevented from voting, but that it was necessary because the state faced “irreparable harm” from the risk of voter fraud. The court’s ruling concludes a remarkable display of partisan power, with the legislative, executive, and judicial branches working in sync to twist democracy under their control.

Today, just one day later, is informing voters that their identification must include a “residential address”.



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The Native women in the Capitol Rotunda


John McCain’s body lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda in September, 2018. The paintings of Columbus and de Soto, each featuring fearful and naked Native women, can be seen in the background.

In the center of the US Capitol, under the iconic white dome, is a large round room called the Rotunda. There are eight niches in it, circling the room, each with an oil painting twelve feet tall and eighteen feet wide. The figures painted in the historic scenes are nearly life-sized. In both their content and backstory, the paintings tell a story of conquest, ethnic cleansing, and the rape of Native women.

The first four paintings, installed between 1820 and 1826, do not include Natives explicitly. They depict key moments in US-British relations: the signing of the Declaration of Independence, two British surrenders during the Revolutionary War, and George Washington preparing to become the first president. Natives are literally out of picture, although the Declaration of Independence describes them as “merciless Indian savages”.

It’s the second four paintings, installed between 1840 and 1855, that send a political message regarding US-Native relations. The Trail of Tears occurred in 1838, paving the way for massive ethnic cleansing east of the Mississippi and ultimately for outright Native extermination in some states, complete with government subsidies and bounties, thru the late 1800s.


When she was kidnapped, Pocahontas had a Native husband and infant; she never saw them again.

The first painting, Baptism of Pocahontas, was installed in 1840. It’s a curious choice because Pocahontas precedes US history by over a century. She lived and died in the early 1600s and had been largely forgotten for over two hundred years. Her story is not that different from the Boko Haram girls. She was kidnapped by the men of Jamestown, impregnated by and married to her captor, and then converted to his religion while in captivity. In reality, she was not so submissive, but that story is buried by this painting and, later, by Disney. In the 1800s she was revived, portrayed as nearly white in appearance, and used to illustrate the good, obedient Indian. The artist was not shy about his purpose. He wrote: “She stands foremost in the train of those wandering children of the forest who have at different times—few, indeed, and far between—been snatched from the fangs of a barbarous idolatry, to become lambs in the fold of the Divine Shepherd. She therefore appeals to our religious as well as our patriotic sympathies and is equally associated with the rise and progress of the Christian Church as with the political destinies of the United States.”

The next painting, installed in 1844, Embarkation of the Pilgrims, again hails from the early 1600s and shows the colonists in England about to depart. This painting is significant for what it does not show. It leaves out the role of Squanto, so critical as their guide in the early days, and the Sachem Massasoit, who formed an alliance of peace with the Pilgrims that lasted forty years, providing a critical buffer between Plymouth and powerful inland tribes.

columbus painting 2

Naked women run from Columbus.

It also avoids the unpleasant reality of Plymouth, a town built on the ruins of Patuxet, which had just been devastated by a plague and abandoned by its people. The Pilgrims literally had to move Native skeletons from the plague off the fields in order to re-use their corn plots.

A year later, the term “manifest destiny” was coined. Two years after that, in 1847, white US settlers were shooting Pauites in Nevada, Comanches in Texas, and Cayuse in Washington. In California, John Sutter was posting decapitated Miwok and Maidu heads by the gate of his fort. And the painting Landing of Columbus filled the next niche. This time reaching back to the 1400s, it was an interesting choice, for Columbus had nothing to do with the US. He was Italian; he worked for Castile (which later became Spain). And the land upon which Columbus landed was an island in the Bahamas. He never touched the US mainland on any of his journeys. In the painting, as he stakes a flag into the sand, naked Native women run away through the forest. They were right to run; the odds are high they were later raped by the Spanish men.


De Soto routinely captured local chiefs wherever he meant, demanding slaves to carry gear and young women to satisfy his men. In keeping with their Catholic views, they baptized the Native women before raping them.

The last painting, Discovery of the Mississippi, is set in the 1500s. It was installed in 1855, as all-out war with the Sioux was breaking out on the Great Plains and door-to-door genocide was taking place in California. It features Hernando de Soto, a Spaniard, whose three-year “exploration” of the Southeast was nothing more than an expedition to rape, pillage, and burn nearly every Native community he came upon. His own biographer bemoaned, “Oh, wicked men! Oh, devilish greed! Oh, bad consciences!” Despite behavior more akin to the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa, today de Soto is honored by the names of counties, towns, parks, elementary and high schools, and bridges.


Two scantily-clad native women cower before de Soto.

The message of course, and the reason why this painting hangs in the Capitol Rotunda, is that de Soto represents white conquest of Native America. Again, the specter of rape would be historically accurate. The same image has appeared on the back of the $10 bill and $500 bill in the past.

That makes three enormous paintings in the Capitol Rotunda depicting naked or captive Native women, one raped and the others about to be raped, all installed during the mid-1800s. They were installed during a time of ethnic cleansing and genocide to create a national myth of white supremacy and providential entitlement to the land. Today, they still hang there and send the same message.

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Relocated Bad River Chippewa town now a model for climate change adaptation

From NPR:

Wisconsin Reservation Offers A Climate Success Story And A Warning

The town wasn’t moving because of climate change, per se, but as people moved out of the flood plain, rainstorms were getting more frequent and severe. There have been multiple major floods in the region in recent years, culminating in a 2016 deluge that led the governor of Wisconsin to declare a state of emergency.

“In a way, Odanah was very successfully moved right before the monster flood, the 2016 flood, came through. That saved many hundreds of structures from potential flood damage,” says Pinter.



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How to stop mega wildfires: Adopt Native land management practices

Re-posing from my other blog:

California apocalypse again: Large wildfires increasing with climate change


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Birders detect dramatic changes as Davis climate warms

[A version of this was originally published in the Davis Enterprise.]

davis1In 2002, the cover of The New York Times Magazine featured a silhouetted man standing on frosty mauve ice and staring through binoculars into a rosy polar sky. The title read, “Watching the World Melt Away: The future as seen by a lonely scientist at the end of the earth.” The article was about seabird biologist George Divoky and his decades of work studying the black guillemot, a high arctic seabird, on Cooper Island off the coast of Barrow, Alaska. The guillemots were struggling to feed their chicks. Their preferred food, Arctic cod, lived at the edge of the sea ice. In the past, this was five miles from the island. Now it was thirty. Divoky, moreover, found himself sharing his tiny island with several hungry polar bears stranded by the vast expanse of open water. At the time, the story was one of the first concrete examples of climate change impacting an ecosystem in way that was easily seen and understood.

Sixteen years later, birders in Yolo County are now witnessing those kinds of changes at our latitude. Winters are suddenly filled with species previously associated with warmer climates to the south, while some other winter visitors no longer come this far south. In the summer, new species are arriving from more arid regions and have started nesting locally.

Sac Valley winter avg temps SHA shift of a few degrees may not seem like much, but a winter above freezing makes autumn fruit and berries available longer, resulting in a plentiful food supply. This past


Orchard Oriole in Davis last winter

December, birders were astounded to find eight species of warblers and three species of orioles in the county at once. Normal would be three and zero, respectively. These birds are neotropical migrants, spending the summer nesting in the northern United States and Canada, and wintering in Southern California, Mexico, or Central and South America. In the last few years, Cassin’s vireos, black-throated gray warblers, and blue-gray gnatcatchers have been present at many locations throughout the cold months. It is now possible to find hooded orioles and western tanagers year-round. Last winter, rarities like orchard oriole, northern waterthrush, and palm warbler turned up and stayed for weeks or months. The prevalence of unusual over-wintering migrants has enabled birders to rack up quite a winter list. Holly Coates shattered previous “big year” records by tallying 200 species in Yolo County by March 20 this year.

neotrop migrants graphThe Putah Creek Christmas Bird Count, an annual effort to count all the birds in a 15-mile diameter circle near Winters on one day each December, has tracked winter bird populations since 1971. In recent years, the number of neotropical migrants found on the count has swelled. These include warbling vireo and Wilson’s and Townsend’s warblers, in addition to the species mentioned above. Perhaps the most dramatic shift in the count data has been with the turkey vulture. With the absence of tule fog, these birds, which rely on warm thermals to give them some lift, have gone from sparse, rarely more than 15 birds on a count through 1985, to over 150 individuals per count in each of the past eight years.

turkey vulture graphA warming climate is expected to create more increases than decreases in bird life in Yolo County. This is because species diversity is greatest in the tropics. As bird ranges shift north, we expect to see more arrivals than departures. Among the departures are some northern species that are growing scarcer in winter. Most notable is rough-legged hawk, a tundra species that journey south to agricultural areas to eat rodents in winter. They have, however, become decidedly hard to find in recent years, perhaps finding the Willamette Valley and other more northern valleys suitable for their wintering grounds. Another species to watch is the beautiful cedar waxwing, which descend on fruits and berries in the winter months. The more they can find food in the north, the less likely they will come this far south.  They are erratic from year to year, however, so it is too early to identify a trend.

Though less dramatic, our hotter summers have brought some changes as well. Great-tailed grackles have expanded up the Central Valley from the Salton Sea. Say’s phoebes, which previously nested only south of the Delta in the Central Valley, moved into Napa and Solano Counties in 2014. Perhaps they are focusing on certain species of insects. This spring, Michael Perrone found them nesting in Davis and Joan Humphrey discovered them feeding young in Woodland, representing first nesting records for the county.

The Yolo Audubon Society is currently revising its Checklist of the Birds of Yolo County, a useful little booklet that will list all 369 species recorded in the county, each with a bar chart showing their abundance through the year. The last version, published in 2004, had a special section called “Recent Changes” highlighting the wetland restoration projects at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area and Davis Wetlands. In the coming 2018 version, the Recent Changes section will focus on two big issues: the expansion of orchards and our changing climate. Perrone, author of that section, states that “winters have become milder. In particular, prolonged periods of cold, all-day tule fog have ceased, giving way to sunnier weather.” Davis birders may not be standing on the edge of the continent looking at retreating sea ice, but nevertheless, in the last few years they have witnessed dramatic changes in bird distributions. A look at the graphs, moreover, suggests these changes began before that article about Alaska was published.

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Going nuclear: The high school mascot of mass destruction

Much has been written about the use and social purposes of Native mascots. I summarize most of the peer-reviewed literature, 18 papers, at this blog post. Several of those papers describe how the use of mascots assert the power and privilege of one group over another, defining history and the morality of history in the process, and denying “cultural citizenship” to the other group.

There’s nothing like a more contemporary example, in a different political context, to illustrate that point. Enter the Richland High School Bombers.

Richland is located on the dry steppes of eastern Washington at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima Rivers, and just a few miles from the confluence with the Snake River. Historically, this was salmon-harvesting country, where the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and others would converge.

Richland was a small farm town from 1906 until 1943, when the US Army purchased the whole town, two other nearby farming communities, and the surrounding land, totaling 640 square miles, half the size of Rhode Island. This land included many of the villages of the Wanapum, a Native group that had never signed a treaty, never been moved to a reservation, and still lived in traditional tule houses along the Columbia River upstream of Richland. Here the US Army built the Hanford Engineering Works. Seeking to construct the world’s first nuclear weapon, they were looking for some place remote, in case of an accident, with as few white people as possible, and lots of water to cool the nuclear reactors used to make plutonium.

Richland1Richland became the “company town” for Hanford, growing from 300 to 25,000 residents in two years. The entire town was fenced and access was restricted, like a military base. African American employees, 15,000 of them, lived in the “colored barracks” outside of town. At Hanford, the whites and blacks came together and built Fat Man, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. It took the creation of an entire town to build a weapon to destroy another town half a world away.

While not exactly a hang fire, the people of Richland, indeed people all around, have also been victims of the bomb. For decades, the US Army deliberately released radioactive water into the Columbia River from operations at Hanford, affecting salmon. This disproportionately affects the Yakama and other Natives who eat fish at levels much greater than the white population. These releases were kept secret until 1986. Today, pollution accidents from the site continue to plague the region, with releases of radiation filling the news annually. Of the original 640 square miles purchased by the Army, 586 remain closed to the public due to contamination. As “the most toxic place in the nation”, Hanford is now ground zero for environmental cleanup. It is the largest cleanup site in North America, costing taxpayers over $2 billion/year to keep the radiation under control. Ironically, the Hanford Site cleanup is now the largest source of jobs for the people of Richland today.

All of this sordid history makes Hanford and Richland a kind of poster child for the concept that wars have no winners, only losers.

Richland6Nevertheless, in what looks like a desperate attempt to justify the past, just a few months after the bombing they changed the high school mascot from the Beavers to the Bombers. They made the mushroom cloud logo official in the 1980s. It now serves as a kind of civic religious symbol, the town’s focal point for celebrating and defending its role in the bombing of Nagasaki. Other high schools in the area are the Falcons, Bears, Bulldogs, Lions, Riverhawks, Suns, and Panthers. There is also the Kamiakin High School Braves, complete with a spear and feather logo, a Native warrior logo, school functions called Tomatalk, TRIBE, and Trading Post, and, on their website, a short respectful but white-washed history of Chief Kamiakin, as if all is resolved and in the past. The usual Native mascot stuff.

At Richland High, here is what you can find:

  • The mushroom cloud logo adorns everything from their website to athletic socks. The distinctive atom bomb cloud is, writ large, all around campus, including the center of the gym floor.Richland4
  • Letterman’s jackets include mottos such as the offensive “Nuke ‘em” and defensive “Proud of the Cloud”.
  • At sports events, the students chant, “Nuke’em ‘till they glow!”
  • At the Bombers Drive Thru, a popular hamburger joint with the high school crowd, you can buy a mushroom burger called “The Meltdown”.

The other prominent symbol on campus is a large mural of Day’s Pay, a B-17 Flying Fortress. The nickname comes from a fundraiser during the war in which 51,000 workers at Hanford each contributed a day’s pay to financing the plane (back in the day when they held fundraisers for the US military). This aircraft was not used in the bombing of Nagasaki; it was actually used primarily in bombing Germany. Attempts to change the meaning of the “Bombers” mascot to this plane have not been fully successful, especially with the school maintaining the distinctive mushroom cloud logo.

Equally shocking is the minimal controversy and media coverage about this mascot. An online search yields just these:

That was Mitsugi Moriguchi, who was eight-years-old when his town was destroyed. Five of his siblings died of cancer.


Moriguchi (in center with beige jacket and black pants) at Richland High.

Last year, a Hiroshima survivor came to my town (Davis, California) and spoke to students at a school assembly, promoting peace thru forgiveness.  There was no such healing in Richland, however. There was no assembly for Moriguchi. Most students never knew he was there, and school officials were openly nervous about his visit, at first denying media access. A seven-minute video of his visit is here.

His stated goal, after seeing the apparent celebration of the bomb at both Hanford and the high school, was to get Americans to “look under the cloud”. In the video, at least one student does, telling Moriguchi that his visit reminds her that the Japanese were real people, that they existed.

The public comments to the news stories and at an online debate at Buzzfeed illustrate just how easy it is to convince a new generation of a viewpoint that is morally shocking to most others. The overwhelming majority of the comments, often made by former students of Richland High, defend the mascot using painfully immature and illogical arguments. In defense of the mascot, supporters generally make these points:

  • The bombing was justified because it was in response to Pearl Harbor and other offenses.
  • The bombing ended the war, thus saving American lives (and some add Japanese lives to this argument).
  • It’s part of our history.

All of these statements, regardless of how true or false they may be, are mere deflections and irrelevant to the central issue. It is entirely possible to affirm all three of these points and still reject the notion that a high school celebrate and honor a specific violent act that killed 80,000 people (nearly all of them civilians). It is entirely possible to agree with all three of the points above and still mourn the cloud.

Absent in the online discussion is the affect this mascot has on others in the community and our nation. When I mentioned the mushroom cloud logo to a Japanese-American friend of mine, she was momentarily breathless with shock. It is a bold in-your-face display of white American power and privilege. It is difficult to imagine a Japanese-American or even Asian-American student feeling included at Richland High. In the Richland3words of Strong (2004), Asian-Americans in this context are denied any “cultural citizenship”; they do not belong. To quote Farnell (2004) from the Native American mascot literature, the use of a mascot like this asserts the school as white American “public space” where the Nagasaki bombing is justified and celebrated and alternative views are rejected, sometimes by majority vote. The displacement of Natives, segregation of African-Americans, and contamination of the environment all associated with the building of the bomb is ignored. It’s a town where Japanese and Asian-Americans do not count at all.

The nature of the comments, and even the mere existence of the mascot and mushroom cloud logo, suggests the people of Richland are uncomfortable with their history and have a desperate need, even 75 years and four generations later, to defend their participation in the bombing. Deep down, they know that celebrating a mass killing is warped at best, appalling and alienating at worst.


Because they deliberately targeted a civilian population, many consider the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings as examples of state terrorism, as well as the world’s largest terrorist attacks. Pearl Harbor and the aerial bombardments of Tokyo, London, and Dresden are also described as examples of state terrorism.

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