Navajo Nation: Repeal Arizona's Anti-Ethnic House Bill 2281- Oil Threatens Louisiana Choctaws
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – The Intergovernmental Relations Committee, meeting Thursday in special session, voted 7-4 to urge the Arizona Legislature to repeal House Bill 2281 which restricts ethnic studies in state elementary and secondary schools.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Kee Allen Begay is sponsoring the resolution as well as another opposing Arizona's controversial new immigration law.
Begay said that if the Navajo Nation was not protected by federal law in its teaching of ethnic studies, it might find itself in a similar situation, being told that it couldn't teach students about the Long Walk or anything referencing U.S. aggression.
According to the resolution, despite claims to the contrary, the bill promotes “divisiveness, intolerance and resentment.”
Implication that classes that promote respect and instill pride in a student's own, or others' ethnic/cultural and linguistic heritage “are classes that in some way 'promote the overthrow of the United States government' ignores the U.S. patriotism that is predominant not only in the Navajo Nation but throughout Arizona,” the resolution states.
“Arizona HB 2281 is offensive to the patriotism and sacrifice demonstrated by Navajo Nation Code Talkers who utilized their knowledge of their ethnic culture and Navajo language for the benefit of all peoples of the United States of America.”
Further, the resolution states that Arizona public schools should not be required by law to teach intolerance by restricting education opportunities and promoting fear of the unknown and fear of the unlearned.
Instead, “pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals as well as members of diverse, robust ethnic backgrounds that positively contribute to the multicultural, multi-ethnic fabric of Arizona society.”
Begay said the legislation was signed into law May 11 but does not take effect until December, thus giving the Navajo Nation sufficient time to voice its opposition on behalf of Navajo citizens. The Nation was not consulted in enactment of the law, yet it has seven or eight public school districts in Arizona, he said.
Raymond Joe and Leonard Chee both reiterated that the law does afford protection to Native American children.
“I just think this issue is for others, and we should let them worry about this themselves. The reason I say that is the overall political implications that might come with this,” Chee said.
As a member of the IGR task force, they have been working with the governor's office and the Legislature “to build a bridge and also to improve relationships between our tribe and the state government,” he said. “When we come out with legislation and statements like this, such as this committee did with the immigration law, it doesn't help us to build bridges with the state.”
The Navajo Nation is in negotiations with the state of Arizona on its gaming compact. There are fears that those talks could be jeopardized, as well as state funding for Navajo education.
Begay said, however, “If they're going to start breaking off any talks with Navajo because of what we're doing, to me that's going to be pure politics.”
Chee also made reference to Kee's candidacy for the state Legislature, saying that if he was elected, he would be representing Navajo in a Republican-dominated Legislature with a Republican governor who might be re-elected.
“That's been the mistake of Navajo. We always send someone to the Arizona state Legislature that's not always working with the Legislature or the sitting governor. With the state of New Mexico, it's different. If we come out in opposition of state laws that come out like this, we'll continue to be in that situation forever.
“I don't know if I'm trying to be a politician here, but those are some of the realities we live with in the state of Arizona. I'm glad there's provisions in here that protect the Native Americans. Let the other ones that are impacted worry about their own,” Chee said.
Begay reminded the committee that he also is on the state task force with Chee. “I would caution the committee about saying let other people worry about their own,” he responded.
“Whether you're a New Mexico Navajo, an Arizona Navajo, or a Utah Navajo, when we get off the reservation we are citizens of Arizona, and if not, the United States. As elected officials we are there to address these type of issues. We are working with the Arizona governor. They should, likewise, provide that same courtesy to us,” he said.
Delegate Andy Ayze, who is on the Education Committee, said after the vote that he supported Begay's resolution. “I think it would send a message to the Arizona state administration that we are concerned that our children are being affected in certain circumstances.”
However, he also is concerned that the Navajo people could be targeted in some way.
“When I went down to the valley area, meeting with our Navajo children that are living in the area, they feel that it probably would be affecting over 65 percent of them.” That also needs to addressed in the bill, he said.
Oil Threatens French-Speaking Cajuns, Native Choctaw
MONTEGUT, Louisiana (AFP) - The encroaching Gulf of Mexico oil spill may have sounded the death knell for the vanishing cultures of the last French-speaking Cajun communities and Louisiana native Americans.
Here in the deep Louisiana south, the Cajun people and the French-speaking Choctaw Indians can do nothing but maintain an anxious vigil, angrily accusing US authorities of abandoning them to their fate.
Since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig unleashed a huge oil leak in the Gulf, no barriers have been erected to protect their home on a speck of land off the Louisiana coast called Isle de Jean Charles.
For two weeks, Clifton Hendon has been unable to go out to sea to harvest the oyster beds -- his only source of income.
Fishing has been banned in the area in the wake of the deepsea oil spill that British energy giant BP is still struggling to contain, nearly a month after the rig it leased from Transocean sank.
"I've lost hundreds of dollars," sighed the 63-year-old oysterman, one of the 80 or so last remaining French Indians, as they call themselves, living on Isle de Jean Charles.
His small, flat-bottomed boat lay idle, moored on the canal alongside the mobile home where he has lived since Hurricane Katrina destroyed his house in 2005. US officials have promised him a new home. But so far nothing.
"They have abandoned us," he said with an air of resignation.
Used to being overlooked, the Choctaw Indians were not surprised that military engineers sent to the region after the disaster have refused to erect barriers between the bayous and the sea as they have done further up the coast.
If the huge oil slick arrives here as predicted, nothing will stop it from washing up on Isle de Jean Charles, on the southern tip of Lousiana's vanishing wetlands.
"They told us that this island has nothing of value worth saving," said the island's historian, Christophe Brunet.
Tribal chief Albert Naquin confirmed his concerns, saying: "They forgot us because we are a small community and because we are an Indian community."
Instead, authorities have offered to relocate them on firmer land with the rest of the tribe of some 700 people, after hurricanes and the increasing salinization of the bayou have already caused many to leave.
But in fleeing this narrow strip of land that has fallen victim to coastal erosion and storms for years, the Choctaw know they are abandoning their traditions and the language of Moliere spoken here for over 300 years.
These are the descendants of mixed couples who came together in the 18th and 19th centuries, when French settlers intermarried with Indian women.
"Their culture has already been vanishing, because so many of the younger people aren't getting into fishing and to shrimping the way their parents did because it's just not quite lucrative," said filmmaker Rebecca Ferris, who is making a documentary about the island.
"Isle de Jean Charles is already in a paralyzed place because the wetlands are all disappearing and there is, I think, great risks that this area is gonna to go underwater," she added.
"It could be in August or in 30 years, but if the oil gets in to the wetlands around here, I think it would just accelerate the loss."
Bar owner Theo Chaisson agreed, as he emptied out trout he is still allowed to fish. "If it gets here, it will harm our community," he warned.
The Louisiana Indians and the Cajuns are the last French-speaking communities in the United States. But for decades, French has been losing ground.
In 2000, only about 200,000 Louisianans spoke French at home -- 50,000 less than 10 years earlier. "I think Isle de Jean Charles, of all (Indian) communities, is probably gonna be the first one to go," said Ferris.
"We're French Indians," chief Naquin said proudly. "When I started the school, I couldn't speak English.
"I use the French language just when I'm in the island. Basically our culture is the same than the Cajun."
The oil spill risks speeding up the death of the French language here, said singer Zachary Richard, who has fought for the survival of Francophone Louisiana. If the shrimpers are forced to shut down, that will spell the end of French in the bayous.
"The shrimpers are the last bastions of the French language because French is passed on on the boats. The young boys learn to fish using a French vocabulary," Richard said.
"We will see French disappear along a certain part of the Louisiana coast."
Filmmaker Glen Pitre, dubbed the father of Cajun cinema, predicted that for this unique place in America's deep south, the gathering oil slick forming off the coast "could be the last nail in the coffin."
Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse.
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