Native American News: 2022 in Review 

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Here is a summary of some of the top Native American-related stories in 2022.

Native Americans Scored Big Wins in Midterm Vote

2022 saw a record number of Native American/Alaska Native political candidates running for federal, state and local office in midterm elections November 8. Out of 150 candidates, more than 85 won at the ballot box, among them:

  • Republican Markwayne Mullin, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, won a seat in the U.S. Senate
  • Democrat Mary Peltola, Yup’ik from Western Alaska, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Democrat Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk from Kansas, won a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives

Republican Tom Cole, Chickasaw from Oklahoma, won an 11th term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In June, President Joe Biden nominated Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (“Many Hearts”) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, the lifetime chief of the Mohegan Indian Tribe in Connecticut, to serve as U.S. treasurer. She now oversees the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and Fort Knox, home of the U.S. gold reserves, and is a key liaison with the Federal Reserve, America’s central bank.

In December, Malerba and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen became the first pair of women to sign a newly minted $5 bill.

Supreme Court Cases Seen as Threats to Tribal Sovereignty

President Joe Biden this year reiterated his commitment to the sovereignty of Native American tribes, nations and communities. He also injected historic levels of funding into Indian Country and gave tribes a greater voice in policy and decision-making.

Even so, tribes in 2022 expressed fears that their sovereignty was under threat after the June U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Castro v. Huerta, which expanded state authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians on tribal land. Formerly, only federal and tribal courts had legal jurisdiction in such cases.

In November, Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in Brackeen v. Haaland, a lawsuit challenging the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a 43-year-old federal law that sought to curb the once widespread practice of removing Native American children from their families and placing them in non-Native homes and institutions.

ICWA instructs welfare agencies to give preference to placing Indian children with relatives or with fellow tribe members.

ICWA opponents argue that the law is unconstitutional because it discriminates against non-Native adoptive or foster parents. They also argue that Congress has overstepped its authority by legislating matters that should be the “exclusive province of the States.”

Native American rights groups fear that a defeat of ICWA could upend other areas of tribal law. ICWA has a severability clause, which means that some parts of the law could be struck down and the remaining parts of the law could remain intact.

Justices are expected to issue a decision in June or July 2023.

Feds Acknowledge, Investigate Indian Boarding School Abuses

In May, the U.S. Interior Department released the first volume of a federal probe into the Indian boarding school program.

Ordered by Secretary Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, the investigation found that between 1819 and 1969, the federal government “operated or supported” 408 boarding schools in 37 states or former territories, including 21 in Alaska and seven in Hawaii. The report counted 500 student deaths and discovered graves at 53 schools; those numbers are expected to rise as the probe continues.

The report recommended further research into federal boarding school abuses, investigations into tribal health disparities and support for Indigenous language revitalization programs.

In July, Haaland and Assistant Treasury Secretary Bryan Newland launched a yearlong “Road to Healing Tour,” traveling to Oklahoma, Michigan and South Dakota to give boarding school survivors and their families a chance to tell their stories, to help connect communities with trauma support and to begin work on collecting a permanent oral history. Haaland conducted listening sessions in Anadarko, Oklahoma; Pellston, Michigan; and Mission, South Dakota, and plans visits to other states in 2023.

While she was serving in Congress, Haaland introduced legislation to establish a truth and healing commission to investigate and document Indian boarding school abuses and their impact on tribes and families. It was reintroduced in 2022 by Representative Sharice Davids. Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

The House bill got its first hearing May 12.

While there appears to be broad support for a commission, lawmakers are divided on whether and/or how much authority it should have to subpoena witnesses, records and documents, how the commission would be funded and whether members would be compensated for their time.

Haaland Erases Slurs from US Map

In November, Secretary Haaland signed Secretarial Order 3404, declaring “sq—,” a historic term for Native American women, to be derogatory and setting up a task force to remove the word from 650 geographic features across the U.S.

Throughout the year, the department consulted with almost 70 tribes and announced in September an agreement on new names.

Native Talent Reshifting the Narrative in Film and Television

2022 was a watershed year for Indigenous representation in film and television.

This year saw Season 2 of “Reservation Dogs,” a comedy drama about teens living on an Oklahoma reservation. The first TV series ever to feature all-Indigenous writers and directors and an almost entirely North American Indigenous cast, it won an impressive number of awards.

“Dark Winds,” a crime drama set in the Navajo Nation and starring veteran Lakota actor Zahn McClarnon, was shot at the first Indigenous-owned film studio in New Mexico.

The summer film hit “Prey,” a prequel to Disney’s “Predator” series, starred a mostly Native American cast and was released in English and Comanche language versions.

Source: Voice of America