Gerrymandering was already shaping up to be an important issue this year, with huge implications for American democracy. But after the ruling this week on the North Carolina congressional map, the stakes have been raised still higher.
For the first time, a federal panel of judges ruled that a state’s map of its congressional districts was unconstitutional. The North Carolina map didn’t just give an advantage to Republicans – it manifested “invidious partisan intent.” The panel directed the state to draw the districts again by Jan. 24. Continue reading →
“Gerrymandering has no value in our democracy,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil and Human Rights. (Photo: Janai Nelson/Twitter)
Wielding signs that read “hands off our districts” and “you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your voters,” hundreds of civil rights advocates, lawyers, and lawmakers rallied in the nation’s capital Tuesday as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a landmark redistricting case that poses “the most serious challenge to gerrymandering in modern times.”
The case under consideration—Gill v. Whitford—is the result of a lawsuit filed by Wisconsin voters and the Campaign Legal Center in 2015 alleging that Republican-drawn state district lines violated the rights of Democratic voters. In 2016, a federal court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, arguing that the GOP’s district maps amounted to “an aggressive partisan gerrymander” and ordered the lines redrawn. Continue reading →
The Colorado River, one of the longest rivers in the United States, is gradually shrinking. This is partly a result of overuse by municipalities and seasonal drought. The other reason is global warming.
The decline in the river reservoir will have serious implications for large U.S. cities, such as Los Angeles, that depend on the Colorado River as their water source. In addition, this will also have an impact on the Native American tribes who view the Colorado River as sacred to their religions.
As Ka-Voka Jackson, a member of the Hualapai tribe and a graduate student working to address climate change on the Colorado River and restoring native plant species along its banks, stated,
“The Colorado River is so sacred not just to my tribe, but to so many others.”
As a scholar of Native American religions and the environment, I understand how indigenous people’s religions and sacred places are closely tied to their landscape. For the past 100 years, indigenous peoples have been forced to adapt to changes in their environments and modify their religious rituals in the United States. The U.S. government made certain Native American religious practices illegal in the 19th and early 20th century. Although these policies have since been rescinded, they led to changes in many indigenous practices.
Global warming, however, is different. The question is whether indigenous people will be able to adapt their beliefs all over again due to the impact of global warming on the natural world.
Adapting to change
The Blackfeet tribe in Montana brought changes in their relationship with the natural world as a result of the policies of the U.S. government from the 1880s to the 1930s.
For example, the Blackfeet purposefully moved religious ceremonies from one time on their liturgical calendar to completely different times to avoid the U.S. government penalizing native people for dancing or participating in religious ceremonies.
The Blackfeet moved their annual O’kan, or sundance festival, from late summer (usually held at the end of August) to the Fourth of July celebration. They avoided U.S. government punishment by masking their ceremonies within state-sanctioned public events.
Policies related to the mining of natural resources and damming of rivers on indigenous lands have also led to changes in Native Americans’ religious practices.
Historian David R. M. Beckinterviewed elders and researched how the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin adapted to the loss of their sacred fish, the sturgeon, after a paper mill built a dam across the Wolf River.
The sturgeon disappeared after the dam was built in 1892, because they could no longer swim upstream to spawn. For over 100 years, the Menominee tribal members continued to pray and conduct their annual “returning of the sturgeon” ceremony in the spring – even though there were no more sturgeon in the river. The Menominee ultimately won the right to return the sturgeon to the Wolf River in 1992 and the tribe revitalized the full ceremony and celebration of their sacred fish.
In all these situations, Native American tribes learned to adapt to the challenges placed before them, modify their religious practice and embrace a different relationship with the natural world.
Global warming and religion
When it comes to global climate change, it affects everyone, not just specific groups in specific places. But for many indigenous peoples, natural resources are closely linked to religious beliefs and practices.
Historically, indigenous peoples used the natural seasonal cycles of weather, plants and animals as part of their liturgical or religious calendar. The Blackfeet held their annual “beaver bundle ceremony” in the early spring as ice melted off rivers and beavers returned to the open waters. In Blackfeet mythology, a beaver served as a deity who taught humans how to cultivate tobacco, which the tribe used for important religious ceremonies and as a peace offering to their enemies.
There are signs, though, that beavers are now moving north due to global warming. Biologists are currently studying both beavers and the birch and alder shrubs
that beavers eat, as both move north into new regions. Scientists worry that as a keystone species, the movement of beavers will change the northern ecosystems as they cut off waterways and build beaver dams. And shrubs will change the local waterways that they grow by. This will affect local animal species.
What will happen when there are no more beaver in Blackfeet territory? Will their religious traditions adapt similar to the Menominee when they faced the loss of their sacred sturgeon?
Religion and resiliency
From the arctic tundra to the American desert southwest, and places worldwide, indigenous peoples will be facing the impact of global climate change.
Regarding the shrinking of the Colorado River, researchers Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeckhave concluded that, “Failing to act on climate change means accepting the very high risk that the Colorado River basin will continue to dry up into the future.”
If this river faces a drier future, it will likely affect the Mojave, a people indigenous to the Colorado River basin, who believe the river was created by their ancient deity Mastamho as part of their sacred landscape.
As the G-20 convenes in Germany this week to discuss global issues including climate change, indigenous scholars, such as myself, are wondering what the future holds for indigenous peoples, their environments and their religions.
Indigenous communities can be resilient and adapt their internal religious beliefs to outside challenges, as Native American tribes from the turn of the 20th century have proven. Climate change presents yet another challenge.
Wisconsin’s voter ID law may have suppressed a stunning 200,000 votes in the 2016 presidential election, a study shown exclusively to TheNation has revealed, and the law disproportionately kept Democratic and African-American voters from the polls.
President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by a mere 22,748 votes.
The study by Priorities USA, a group affiliated with the Democratic Party, looked at states that had passed strict voter ID laws since the 2012 election, comparing them to states that did not. According to TheNation‘s Ari Berman,the study found: Continue reading →
Proposed mine site along the Menominee River. (Credit: Brian Bienkowski)
The State of Michigan on Friday announced its intention to approve, over tribal protests, an open pit mine near burial and other culturally important sites in the Upper Peninsula.
The mine would provide an economic boost to the region and metals such as gold, zinc, copper and silver that fuel our tech- and gadget-driven lifestyle. But would come at the expense of land and water that is central to the existence of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. The decision comes as Native Americans across the country are unifying to buck the trend of development on off-reservation land.
Workers, students, and activists walked off the job and out of their schools for a massive action in Wisconsin on Thursday, protesting two anti-immigration bills currently advancing through the state legislature.
The Wisconsin uprising of 2011 provides valuable lessons for the Black Lives Matter movement across the US, especially about the directions not to take.
Photo: Black Lives Matter protesters occupy the Wisconsin Capitol after the police killing of the unarmed black teenager Tony Robinson, March 2015.
In response to the police killing of Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisconsin, a movement appears to have taken root in the state. This happened around the same time as the movement against the ‘right-to-work’ legislation — a continuation of what started in the spring of 2011, with the occupation of the state’s Capitol building and massive rallies contesting the abolition of public sector collective bargaining as proposed in the controversial Act 10 legislative bill — has grown exhausted and dejected. Continue reading →
In a move that will impact hundreds of thousands of voters and may carry national implications, the Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a challenge to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s restrictive voter identification law.
Immediately after the high court rejected, without comment, to hear the case of Frank v. Walker, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed an emergency motion with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking that the court stop the law from taking immediate effect. In Wisconsin, voting is currently underway in the April 7 general election as absentee ballots have already been sent to voters and early voting began Monday morning. ACLU warned that if the law is immediately enacted, some 300,000 Wisconsin voters will be impacted.
One of the more amazing (and amusing, if we’re to be honest about it) stories in national politics so far this year has been the rise of Scott Walker as a player in the GOP presidential race. We’ve written about him on numerous occasions; the last time we took a look at what he was up to, we compared what he claimed in his inaugural speech to what was actually happening in the state.
A couple weeks ago, another of our crazy neighbors (Representative Steve King from Iowa) hosted the Iowa Freedom Summit. Shunned by the “moderate” GOP establishment, the event was basically an audition for the Iowa primary. Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump; the list of potential and pretender candidates speaking was enough to send a shiver of excitement down the typical Iowa Tea Party supporter’s leg. Two speeches attracted most of the attention, though; Sarah Palin’s incoherent word salad that had some of her most ardent former supporters throwing her under the bus, and Scott Walker’s speech. Continue reading →
It’s 2015, which means that the presidential campaigns are just beginning to get under way. This time around, the field’s particularly unsettled on the Republican side. One person who’s been mentioned as a potential candidate on more than one occasion is Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker.
By Gage Skidmore [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons