Category Archives: Uncategorized

Maya civilization was much vaster than known, thousands of newly discovered structures reveal

Scientists using high-tech, airplane-based lidar mapping tools have discovered tens of thousands of structures constructed by the Maya.

Sources: Maya civilization was much vaster than known, thousands of newly discovered structures reveal

Hunting for the ancient lost farms of North America

2,000 years ago, people domesticated these plants. Now they’re wild weeds. What happened?

Natalie Mueller is an archaeobotanist at Cornell University who has spent years hunting for erect knotweed across the southern US and up into Ohio and Illinois. She calls her quest the “Survey for Lost Crops,” and admits cheerfully that its members consist of her and “whoever I can drag along.” She’s published papers about her work in Nature, but also she spins yarns about her hot, bug-infested summer expeditions for lost farms on her blog. There, photographs of the rare wild plants are interspersed with humorous musings on contemporary local food delicacies like pickle pops.

Source: Hunting for the ancient lost farms of North America

For Native Americans, a ‘Historic Moment’ on the Path to Power at the Ballot Box

Diné (Navajo) voters registering in 1948. Native voting was barred in several states until the Voting Rights Act.

Court battles playing out over indigenous voting rights have the potential to tip tight races in states with large native populations and to influence matters of national importance.

Source: For Native Americans, a ‘Historic Moment’ on the Path to Power at the Ballot Box

Hurricane Irma Unearths Calusa Village Site


A recent posting on artnetnews, a blog site dedicated to information on art auctions and collecting from around the world, announced that Hurricane Irma had disturbed an ancient indigenous village site on Florida’s Marco Island:

Hundreds of artifacts have been uncovered after Hurricane Irma uprooted trees on a Native American preserve on South Florida’s Marco Island in September . . . Archaeologists have long suspected that the area was rife with historical artifacts, but the excavation of public land is illegal and wouldn’t have been approved by the local government. Now that the items have been unearthed naturally, archaeologists have removed 200 artifacts from the preserve, including tools, glass, pottery, and shells.

The objects have been transported to the Marco Island Historical Museum, where they will be studied and prepared for display or loaned to other institutions.

Most people have not heard of the Calusa, but at one time, their influence was felt across the whole of South Florida. Researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History estimate their population to have been in the several thousands, citing Spanish accounts of a Calusa ceremony in 1566:

According to eyewitness accounts, in 1566 over 4,000 people gathered to witness ceremonies in which the Calusa king made an alliance with Spanish governor Menéndez de Avilés. The king entertained the governor in a building so large that 2,000 people could stand inside.

The Calusa were unique in another respect. Unlike most indigenous communities in in Florida, which relied on the production of staple crops for sustenance and trade, the Calusa “raised no corn, beans, or manioc,” and relied on fishing and gathering for their sustenance. They were also skilled mariners, plying the Gulf’s waters from Southwest Florida coastline to Cuba, and it was perhaps this that enabled them to maintain such a large population and widespread influence.

Some local Native community members would like the objects unearthed by Irma to be returned to the land. In this day of three dimensional printing and digital imaging, it might be possible to do so, especially if archaeologists make copies of the originals and then rebury them in Marco Island’s Otter Mound preserve, which is already set up to protect indigenous materials.


Hundreds of Native American Artifacts Unearthed by Hurricane Irma Are Headed to a Florida Museum




TransCanada scraps $12 billion oil pipeline

TransCanada Corp abandoned its C$15.7 billion ($12.52 billion) cross-country Energy East pipeline on Thursday amid mounting regulatory hurdles, dealing a blow to the country’s oil export ambitions.——Reuters October 5, 2017

If you believe the recent headlines announcing the TransCanada Corporation’s decision to cancel its planned Energy East pipeline, the company made a simple calculation based on supply and demand. As the graph below shows, most pipelines are not at capacity and the need for further expansion is not at all apparent from the data.

Yet this chart, created by Andrew Leach of the University of Alberta, only tells part of the story. Some media outlets have made the case that the protests of indigenous communities played an important role in this decision. CBC, for example, reports that “the entire province of Quebec was opposed to Energy East,” citing the comments of Allied First Nations Chief for Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard. For Picard and others in indigenous communities, “the project’s cancellation was, in part, due to relentless lobbying on the ground.” (Read More).

Whichever of these analyses is correct, the fact remains that extractive industries engaged in oil and gas drilling and transportation have become a lighting rod for collective action in which Native communities are joined by environmental groups, as well as farmers and ranchers, to protest both government and corporate overreach.

the project’s cancellation was, in part, due to relentless lobbying on the ground

Ghislain Picard

Additionally, many tribal governments have committed to the development of alternative energy sources. On Picard’s reservation, for example, there is a wind farm. A 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) found that about 5% of all available alternative energy sources in the country are found on tribal lands (Developing Clean Energy Projects on Tribal Lands). Thus it seems that Native peoples’ opposition to oil and gas exploration near their homelands often derives from a more forward-looking approach to sustainability that sometimes outstrips that of the settler communities around them.

In 2005, during the Bush administration DOE set up an Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs to facilitate this effort. As part of a more comprehensive Energy Policy Act regarding energy policy nationwide, the Office of Indian Energy Policy is tasked with providing funding for tribes who wish to pursue clean energy options on their lands. Between 2005-2014, DOE provided $40 million in assistance to 183 such tribal projects.

When Native communities protest fossil fuel development projects like the Energy East pipeline, it is not because they oppose progress. It is simply that this kind of “progress” will not prove sustainable in their homelands. Wind, water, sun—the resources that have nourished their crops and herds and families for centuries—are attractive sources for the energy needs of the tribes inasmuch as they are already part of the local ecosystem and, perhaps more importantly, they are not controlled by outsiders. Oil and natural gas production often bring with them social ills, and afterward, a staggering scale of cleanup and rehabilitation before the land is once more ready for farming or grazing.

Tar Sand extraction at Ft. McKay First Nation.

Still, some communities, like Ft. McKay First Nation in Canada, feel that such exploration and development are worth it. Having struggled for generations at the poverty level, now the tribe maintains a $56 million dollar community trust fund. Not everyone in Ft. McKay is optimistic. As elder Clara Mercer told APTN National News in 2015, “People went to work, people now have vehicles, and we have good homes here and well-kept yards. But along with the big bucks coming into the community we do also have social problems.”

The bottom line: Native nations have the sovereign right to choose.

Sources: Facing tougher regulations, TransCanada scraps $12 billion oil pipeline

The Never Ending War

All across the world, indigenous peoples are under siege. Miners, farmers, loggers, and petroleum companies from industrialized societies covet their land and resources and will stop at nothing to get them.

In the first week of September, 2017, aerial photos surfaced showing the burned out lodges of an uncontacted Amazonian Native community, sparking fears that at least ten of its members had been murdered by outsiders seeking to expand their gold mining claims onto indigenous land.

Burned Out Lodges of Uncontacted Amazonian Indians.

Officials from Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency (FUNAI) had conducted a flyover in the Amazon to verify claims by miners in the nearby non-Indian town that they had killed at least ten native villagers. The miners displayed “trophies” in proof of their story.

This is a story that is all too common in indigenous homelands around the world. Native peoples in the western hemisphere, especially, have borne the brunt of the pressure to increase resource extraction in that region to counter foreign oil dependency and to provide rare materials for newly globalized tech industries. Essential minerals like lithium for computer and cell phone batteries have created what economists have dubbed the “lithium triangle,” a region that  that overlays Argentina, Bolivia and Chile (see map). It holds 54% of the world’s “lithium resources.” Canadian and Japanese mining companies have been extracting billions of dollars of lithium here, but local peoples like the Atacama of Chile have received little in return. The Washington Post reports that one contract is expected to generate “250 million a year in sales while each community will receive an annual payment — ranging from $9,000 to about $60,000 — for extensive surface and water rights” (Read More).

The Lithium Triangle

For less exotic resources—things like coal, oil, timber, and gold—the strategies of settler individuals and energy companies has been outright war.

Earlier this year, The Repatriation Files recounted how indigenous environmental activists who have been trying to protect their homelands’ resources are increasingly becoming the victims of this war. In Mexico this year, Isidro Baldenegro, a Tarahumara subsistence farmer and community leader, was gunned down in front of his home by a suspected supporter of a logging company.

Isidro Baldenegro

Mr. Baldengro’s murder marked a horrible anniversary for indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere. Just a year before, fellow Goldman Prize winner, Berta Caceres— a member of the Lenca community in Honduras—was shot to death in her own home. She had been protesting the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer.

Berta Caceres at the banks of the Gualcarque River in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras.

Sadly, Beta Caceres and Isidro Baldenegro are the norm, rather than the exception. All told, 122 activists were murdered across Latin America in 2015. Being indigenous and caring for one’s homeland has clearly become a lethal occupation.

All told, 122 activists were murdered across Latin America in 2015

The NGO Global Witness has produced a chart based on statistics that record violence against environmental activists around the globe. It highlights,  in vivid color, the awful concentration of violence the western hemisphere’s indigenous peoples bear in this global war for resources (Read More).

In North America, similar violence has been inflicted on Native peoples and their allies who have attempted to resist the endless expansion of drill rigs and pipelines across the west.

BIA Agent and DAPL Protester, Cheyenne River Reservation, February, 2017.

One of the most corrosive elements of this war has been a collatoral increase in sexual assaults where extractive industries have set up temporary housing for workers. A recent study at the University of North Dakota found that between 2008 to 2014, there was a “72 percent in dating violence, with domestic violence at 47 percent.” The region studied, 21 North Dakota counties and 12 counties from western Montana, is heavily populated by Native people, and includes MHA Nation, Fort Peck, and Trenton Indian Service Area.

Mary Kathryn Nagle, an attorney and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, joined Gloria Steinem in an essay analyzing this violence for the Boston Globe. For Nagle and Steinem, the connections between extractive industries and violence against Native women is clear:

That’s because, in this country as around the world, extractive industries create so-called “man camps,” places where male workers often work 12-hour days, are socially isolated for weeks or months at a time, and live in trailers in parks that extend for miles. Many men retain their humanity, but as advocacy organizations like First Nations Women’s Alliance have noted, these man camps become centers for drugs, violence, and the sex trafficking of women and girls. They also become launching pads for serial sexual predators who endanger females for miles around.

Researcher Nikke Alex, a Diné student of Natural Resource Law, Environmental Law, Water Law and International Law at the University of New Mexico, has written a report that demonstrates how oil drilling has affected the social lives of women on the Ft. Berthold Reservation in North Dakota.

Alex feels that “the Tribes need to hold the United States government and energy companies responsible “not only for the environmental impact, but for the social impacts” of oil exploration on tribal lands. Because “oil development has begun pumping sexual violence against American Indian women into the small rural community of Ft. Berthold, the Three Affiliated Tribes which share governance there will need to take “tribal, national and international action to protect their women.”

extractive industries create so-called “man camps” . . . centers for drugs, violence, and the sex trafficking of women and girls. 

Nagle and Steinem

The global market for resources has touched indigenous peoples from the Amazon to the Canadian plains, leaving behind broken lives and land. The people photographed by Brazil’s FUNAI look up at the passing aircraft not with fear, but with anger. In their faces, we see 500 years of exploitation and warfare. Yet we also see their humanity. Women, men, and children who want to be left alone to live their lives in peace—the truest definition of freedom.

Aerial photo of noncontacted Amazonian people.


For them and thousands of other indigenous people in the western hemisphere, this is just one more battle in a war that began in October of 1492 and shows no signs of ending anytime soon. On Indigenous Peoples Day this year, think of the faces in this photograph. What will you do to protect your forest kinsmen from slaughter?









Repatriating the Voices of Indian Country

All across the United States, hundreds of wax cylinder recordings containing the voices of Native elders are decaying to the point of no return.

Ethnographer Frances Demsmore recording Mountain Chief, elder of the Blackfeet Nation.

Fortunately, recent innovations at Berkeley’s Lawrence Laboratories have made it possible to retrieve recordings that archivists feared were lost forever to mold and degradation. Using optical scanning technology, researchers have “read” the physical markings left on the old wax tubes (grooves similar to those on a phonograph record) and have translated them into digital reproductions of the sound they once encoded in analog ridges along the surface of the cylinders.

The results have been amazing. Berkeley linguist Andrew Garrett, who is working on a collection of Yurok stories, has found the recovered voices invaluable for reconstructing the verbal arts of the Yurok community. For Garrett, the new technology is a form of repatriation: “I see what we are doing as creating the possibility of digital repatriation of cultural heritage to the people and communities where the knowledge was created in the first place.”

A similar recovery effort is underway at Philadelphia’s American Philosophical society, which has been collecting and working to preserve Native American languages since the time of  its founders, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

“I see what we are doing as creating the possibility of digital repatriation of cultural heritage to the people and communities where the knowledge was created in the first place.”

Andrew Garrett

The APS is currently in the process of digitizing and extensively cataloging over 3000 hours of endangered Native American languages. These recordings include music, origin stories, historical accounts, linguistic material, and conversations with elders in both English and indigenous languages. Many of these recordings were originally made on obsolete technology such as wax cylinders, wire, or aluminum discs.

Lela Rhodes (Achumawi), “Mouse Brothers.” California Language Archive.

These efforts represent a form of repatriation.  By plucking these stories out of danger, scientists are making them available to a new generation of Native storytellers, linguists, and artists. In 2010, for example, the Unkechaug community of Long Island contacted the American Philosophical Society and requested a copy of the vocabulary list the Society had constructed from a recovered recording of the Unkechaug language in order to begin the process of its revitalization.

At Berkeley, young Native people like Rumsen Ohlone tribal member Louis Trevino can now access their traditional languages, many of which have not been spoken for several generations. As he explains in the National Science Foundation’s online magazine, Science Nation, “because we don’t have old timers who can sing the songs . . . for us, this is one of our sole resources. For that reason, it is especially precious to us.”

In this way, such efforts at recovering the indigenous sounds trapped on old wax cylinders exemplify how the work is repatriation is never just about the past. Digital versions of the recordings are clear, and now may speak again—to a present and future audience. They are reproducible and available to all those who are doing the hard work of language revitalization in their communities. The voices of past elders, whose knowledge once passed face-to-face to the next generation, although in a new form, still carry their messages of cultural continuity and continue to demonstrate the incredible resilience of indigenous ways of knowing.

Miguelito (Diné) making phonograph record. Copyright by Geoffrey O’Hara, New York, N.Y.. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division