Female Cops on The Navajo Rez…Crime, Curses and Amulets

“On a vast reservation, female Navajo officers patrol with bulletproof vests and protective amulets.” J M. Glionna, LA Times

Officer Lojann Dennison stands in a field with a view of Shiprock, N.M., in the background. She patrols one of seven districts on a Navajo reservation.


Excerpt:  By John M. Glionna, L A Times

“Officer Lojann Dennison was just ending her shift when she took the 10 p.m. assault call. She was tired as she headed out into the profound darkness of the reservation.

Her Chevy Tahoe police cruiser bumped along dirt roads with ruts deep enough to loosen a tooth filling. Territorial dogs barked and gave chase. After 40 jarring miles,Dennison arrived at a clutch of mobile homes where family members confronted a young man who had just beaten his intoxicated uncle to death.

Officer Lojann Dennison, 47, is a 20-year veteran with the Navajo Nation Police Department, whose force is 20% female.

She switched off the ignition and stepped out into the moonless night, alone. Dennison, a 20-year veteran with the Navajo Nation Police Department, was troubled by an all-too-familiar thought: Timely backup on the sprawling Indian nation was a luxury her understaffed department could not afford.

She patrols one of seven districts on a Navajo reservation that is home to 180,000 people. Among 500 sovereign tribal nations in the U.S., the Navajo are among the few with their own police force. The vast majority of the department is Native American.

That means Navajo patrolling Navajo, with aspects of the job far outside typical rural policing: She struggles with deeply rooted customs that can call for an officer to choose between allegiance to clan ties and upholding the law. She wears a bulletproof vest but also wears a protective amulet and conducts ritualistic cedar burnings in the way of her ancestors.

Officer Dennison, responding to a call in Shiprock, N.M., has duties that fall outside typical rural policing. Photo- Randi L. Beach-LA Times

On this summer night, the situation appeared to be headed toward chaos. Dennison had handcuffed the nephew and put him in the back seat of her vehicle, where he explained the killing: He’d grown tired of being picked on whenever his uncle got drunk.

Meanwhile, two women ordered Dennison to remove the body because Navajo culture instructs a sacred mix of fear and respect for the dead. She told the women the body had to stay in place until the coroner arrived. Then one woman pushed her, calling for street justice. She banged on the windows of the locked cruiser, urging for help to pull the terrified nephew from the car.

Dennison radioed for backup, performing a mental inventory on her weaponry: the Glock 22 . 40-caliber handgun at her side and the AR-15 assault rifle locked down in her cruiser. ‘It’s a scary feeling. We have all these tools on our belts, but I’ve never been involved in an officer-involved shooting,’ she would recall later. ‘But that night, alone, facing off against those women, I told myself, ‘I’m going to have to use my weapon here.’

Traditionally, Navajo elders have encouraged women to avoid weapons. ” she says. And I’ll use it when I have to. Randi L. Beach-LA Times

She didn’t. At 5-foot-4 and with short moussed hair, the 47-year-old Dennison is hardly an imposing figure, but through force of personality and smarts earned in decades on the force, she kept the situation from spinning out of control. Her backup didn’t arrive for an hour.

At 27,000 square miles, the Navajo reservation spreads into Arizona, Utah and New Mexico — an area about the size of West Virginia. Tasked with patrolling 1,000 square miles of territory, officers can travel two hours to reach a crime scene. Some 40% of the reservation is a cellphone dead zone, and 60% lacks the two-way radio coverage officers use to keep in contact with their home base.

Since 2011, three Navajo officers have been killed and several injured — all overwhelmed in isolated areas, all alone. The last, Officer Houston James Largo, was killed in 2017 while responding to a domestic violence call; he’d called for backup but was outside two-way radio contact.

While the FBI pursues major crimes, such as murder and rape, Navajo officers act as first responders who conduct field interviews and protect evidence. The department counts just 200 officers, a skeleton staffing rate well below the national average and half of what commanders say is needed to adequately patrol the reservation.

Female officers such as Dennison are a key part of the department’s approach to one of the toughest policing jobs in America. Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco has actively encouraged the hiring of female officers. They now comprise 20% of the force, compared with other U.S. police departments, which on average are 13% female, according to the National Center for Women and Policing…Although female officers have made strides within the department, Dennison says true equality still eludes them. Many tribal elders say women have no place in police work.

When Officer Lojann Dennison is on duty, she wears an amulet to protect her from dark spiritual forces. Photo- Randi L. Beach-LA Times

‘They sent you?’ they’ll say. ‘Why not a male officer?’ ‘Yep, they sent me,”’she’ll respond. ‘I can do anything he can do.’ 

Dennison had just joined the department in 1997 when she encountered an old woman who was intoxicated and combative. She was a passenger in a car Dennison stopped and began throwing her shoes and purse at the officer.

She also threw something else from a small box: dust and ground-up bones.

Dennison soon began suffering from nausea and migraine headaches that forced her to take time off from work. After a trip to the hospital brought no relief, her father took her to a medicine man.

Dennison had been cursed, he said, touched by a world of ghosts and skin walkers. Until then, she’d never believed in such a thing.

Growing up, her grandparents had whispered about the realm of evil spirits, but her mother, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, discouraged her daughter from ever talking about them.

The medicine man gave Dennison an arrowhead talisman and a bottle of mountain herbs to shield her from evil spirits and the perils of contact with the deceased, a regular occurrence in her line of work.

Eventually, the pain subsided. But the episode provided Dennison with new insights into her culture’s ancient beliefs and the risks of tribal policing. Spiritual teachings warn to simply stay clear of the dead, but Dennison often has no choice…Among Navajo, the so-called dark side is a phenomenon that is rarely discussed, especially to outsiders.  Dennison figures that as many of her fellow officers observe the spirit world as those who don’t, but she rarely, if ever, asks.

With the spread of Christianity and other religions, only one-third of reservation residents remain believers in the dark side, Chief Francisco estimates.

Still, because of the danger of their work, police officers of all ranks wear amulets, in the shapes of sacred animals, and are blessed by a medicine man…In Navajo courtrooms, testifying witnesses can request the suspect’s family be removed for fear they might cast a curse…Some nights, she responds to calls from an elderly store owner in an isolated settlement known as Little Water. The woman reports seeing skin walkers lurking outside her business. And Dennison always goes to check.

So far, she’s never spotted any ghosts . But one night, she passed a figure on the road wearing a large mask that covered most of its upper body. She quickly turned around and went back to investigate. By the time she got there, the vision had vanished.

But Dennison knows what she saw: “I know it exists, the evil. I know it’s out there.”

Category: Culture

Martin Scorsese and Chief Standing Bear to Discuss Native Film about the Osage Murders.

“The main theme of the meeting was how could the Osage Nation help with the filming of the upcoming adaptation of David Grann’s bestselling novel about the Osage Reign of Terror, Killers of the Flower Moon. The reign of terror is arguably the most sinister time in Osage history in the past 100 years.” S. Duty-Osage News

Martin Scorsese meets with Chief Standing Bear about Killers of the Flower Moon.

Excerpt:  Martin Scorsese and meets Chief Standing Bear…By Shannon S. Duty

“Famed Hollywood director Martin Scorsese and his team met with Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear today for two-and-a-half hours in the Executive Conference room on the Osage Nation campus…“We want to make sure your people have everything they need, in terms of Osage artisans, Osage language … ‘those people are still here in the community and would love to help,’ Standing Bear said. ‘We are very thankful you are here and that you are willing to tell this story.’

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Scorsese confirmed that they will be working closely with the Osage Nation on the aspects of culture, history and the language. He said working on a film for him is a journey and that one of his favorite parts of that journey is learning the history and the culture.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese & Robert De Niro Eyeing ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’

Standing Bear said in the 1920s, Osages were still wearing their traditional clothing and speaking the language…Quick to laugh, easy-going and full of stories, Scorsese and Standing Bear discussed the aspects of the film, but also spoke about their lives, families and interests. Scorsese also noted that his longtime friend and colleague, Robert De Niro would be playing the murderer Bill Hale.

Pre-production has already begun on the film and will pick up speed in November. The film will be shot in the spring and summer of 2020. Leonardo DiCaprio is set to star.

Standing Bear asked Scorsese what drew him to the project, he said his manager Rick Yorn gave him a copy of Grann’s book and after reading it he knew it was a project he wanted to be a part of.”

Category: Culture

The Next Generation of NASA Natives in 2020!

“NASA’s next generation of Natives: After the moon it’s the 2020 Mission to Mars.” A Chavez, ICM

Aaron Yazzie follows the footsteps of Native pioneers like John Herrington and Jerry Elliot; NASA now has some 21 Native American employees


Excerpt: By A. Chavez, ICM

“Aaron Yazzie follows the footsteps of Native pioneers like John Herrington and Jerry Elliot; NASA now has some 21 Native American employees.

Aaron Yazzie sometimes felt like he was in a ‘little bubble’ growing up on the Navajo Nation reservation in Holbrook, Arizona.

He doesn’t remember learning about the exact happenings of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. The bulk of his information came from the movies.

That is, until he graduated from Stanford University, and then became a mechanical engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Aaron Yazzie and Jerry Elliot in front of the Endeavor Space Shuttle at the California Science Center in 2015. Photo by Aaron Yazzie.)

In November, he played a part in building hardware on the InSight Mars Lander whose mission is to map out the structure of Mars. He built the spacecraft’s pressure inlet, a device that accurately monitors the pressure of the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

While Earth and Mars are a mere 250 million miles away, Yazzie says they are more in common than one would think. For him, this has been an unexpected way to think about the planet.

Yazzie, 33, credits his success to the mentorship he received through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. He has been a member since high school.

It was at an AISES conference where Yazzie first met other Natives working at NASA like Herrington and Elliott.

‘I’ve always looked up to them,’ Yazzie said. ‘They have been leaders and elders in STEM. I always wanted to follow in their path.’

He is currently working on a new mission: Mars 2020. This time, he is building a tool to be able to drill holes into rocks and pull out samples. Their hope is that the first man (or woman) on Mars will bring the samples back to earth with them.”

Additonal Readings:

“John Bennett Herrington (Chickasaw Nation) is a retired United States Naval Aviator and former NASA astronaut. In 2002, Herrington became the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to fly in space.”  -Wikipedia

Jerry C. Elliot (Cherokee,Osage) “Jerry joined NASA in April, 1966, as a Flight Mission Operations Engineer at NASA’s Mission Control Center, and has held progressively responsible technical and managerial positions with highly successful accomplishments in the fields of spacecraft systems, hardware, software, configuration design, trajectories, mission operations, Earth resources, astronaut crew equipment, scientific experiments and technical management.”  -NASA

Category: Technology | Tags:

The Hawaiians, Mauna Kea and the Thirty Meter Telescope

“Mauna Kea, also known as Mauna a Wakea, is a 13,800 foot high mountain on Hawai‘i Island, and considered the most sacred site to Kanaka ‘Ōiwi, the Native Hawaiian people…Hawaiians have fought against Western astronomy on the summit since the industry got a foothold there in the late 1960s.  So far Hawaiians have managed to stop all efforts to begin construction through legal challenges and civil disobedience.” A. K. Kelly, Indian Country Today

Mauna Kea Sunrise- USGS

Excerpt:  Mauna Kea is only latest thing they want to take… By  Anne Keala Kelly,

“Named after Wākea, Father Sky, it is home to a number of religious deities, and is a traditional burial ground for the most revered ali‘i (royalty) and kahuna (priests). The spiritual and cultural significance of the mauna predates the European-American colonization of the earth by millennia…

Fifty years and 13 telescopes later, the newest addition, if the state and the TMT Corporation have their way, will be the Thirty Meter Telescope.  The first protest on Mauna Kea disrupted the internationally live-streamed groundbreaking ceremony in October 2014. That was followed by an around the clock vigil that began in March of 2015. Then there were 31 arrests in April, and a few months later in June, a day-long blockade that forced a convoy of workers and equipment to turn around resulted in 11 arrests.

Uncle Billy Freitas, pictured here with Kealoha Pisciotta, was the first kupuna arrested. (Photo by A. K.Kelly)

While news media typically portray resistance to the telescope as Indigenous culture versus Western science, Hawaiians who oppose the project are quick to point out historically relevant events that have led up to this moment. Among those are the U.S. militarily backed overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani’s government, the 1898 U.S. takeover, and what Hawaiians refer to as the 1959 ‘fake statehood.’

The telescope construction is experienced by Hawaiians as part of an ongoing lineage of more than a century of oppression, racism, and forced Americanization that has taken Hawaiian land, exploited and commercialized Hawaiian culture, and normalized the practice of desecrating Hawaiian sacred sites.

One of hundreds of vehicles lining the Saddle Road, Hwy 200 .(Photo by Anne Keala Kelly

‘This mountain represents the last thing they want to take that we will not give to them,’ said longtime activist Walter Ritte… After images of elders being arrested were broadcast, protests and signs of solidarity with the people standing up to protect Mauna Kea began to spread. Indeed, it was painful for many Hawaiians to see beloved cultural practitioners and others being loaded into police vans, with their wrists zip-tied.

The Thirty Meter Telescope is the colonizer trying to exterminate our identity and our sense of self as Hawaiians. But this mountain is so sacred to us we must protect it. In the Kumulipo (Hawaiian creation story) Mauna Kea is where our akua (gods) dwell.”


Category: Culture

The New PBS Cartoon ‘Molly of Denali’ is the First to Have a Native Lead

“The new PBS cartoon ‘Molly of Denali,’ which centers on an Alaska Native family, is perhaps PBS’s most ambitious effort yet to educate its young viewers about a distinct cultural group.” J. Jacobs, The New York Times

Excerpt: With ‘Molly of Denali,’ PBS Raises Its Bar for Inclusion, By Julia Jacobs, The NYT

“When two children’s television producers from the East Coast set out to make a show about an Alaska Native girl whose parents run a rural trading post, there was no question that they would need some cultural guidance.

The new PBS cartoon Molly of Denali, which centers on an Alaska Native family.

Dorothea Gillim, who was executive producer of the ‘Curious George’ television series, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., where the grocery chain Wegmans originated, and she had long imagined a children’s show that centered on a store that was the hub of the community. The show’s other creator, Kathy Waugh, who was a writer on ‘Arthur,’ envisioned a story about an adventurous young girl living in a remote area.

The setting for the show came to Gillim in 2015, when the news media was covering President Obama’s trip to Alaska.

On the eve of the visit he [President Obama] announced that the name of Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, would be restored to Denali, its Alaska Native name.

A scene from Molly of Denali-sgptv.org

The show that the producers dreamed up, called ‘Molly of Denali,’ ended up becoming a PBS cartoon about a 10-year-old Athabascan girl with a video blog about life in rural Alaska. PBS says it is the first nationally distributed children’s series with a Native American lead.

The show, which premieres across the country on Monday, was written for children ages 4 to 8. It follows the spunky and inventive Molly Mabray and her friends as they solve kid-friendly problems, like earning enough money to buy an inflatable tube to ride on the water or finding ways to keep four-legged creatures out of their garden.

The core narrative of the show involves Molly making new connections to her Native identity…PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the nonprofit that distributes federal funds to public broadcasting stations and programs, including ‘Molly of Denali,’ urged the producers to find a way to intimately involve Alaska Native people in the making of the show.

In one episode of Molly of Denali, Molly and her two friends prepare for a canoeing competition. Credit PBS Kids

To make sure they got the show right, the Boston public broadcaster WGBH, which produced the show, involved more than 60 people who are Alaska Native, First Nations or Indigenous in writing the scripts, advising on cultural and linguistic issues, recording the theme song and voicing the characters. ‘We recognized our own ignorance of the subject and we didn’t want to repeat stereotypes,’ Gillim said…It’s a scope of inclusion rarely seen in children’s television, one the show’s Native writers and advisers hope becomes a new standard for how TV producers handle specific cultural identities…’It became very clear to me that I’m sitting with people who don’t know anything about my culture, about where I came from,’ said Luke Titus, one of the advisers.  Titus, 78, an Alaska Native elder who is Lower Tanana Athabascan, discussed growing up in a small cabin in an Alaskan village and the centrality of nature in his community. He eventually got used to the idea that it was O.K. to interrupt the producers to share his own insight, a behavior that isn’t part of his culture’s custom, he said. He shared painful stories, too, including one about being sent away to boarding school when he was about 12 years old, part of a broader forced assimilation campaign by the United States government.

Boarding school is a common childhood memory for Native Americans of a certain generation… At the heart of the show are Molly’s efforts to learn about her family’s Alaska Native heritage and sustain it as a member of a younger generation.”

United Houma Nation Braces for Tropical Storm Barry

“Louisiana tribe [United Houman Nation] evacuates citizens to shelters provided by federally-recognized tribes ** Updated Saturday 9 am EST” P. Talahongva, ICT

Chief August Creppel of the United Houma Nation

Excerpt: Tribes brace for Tropical Storm Barry, By Patty Tala hongva, ICT

“Tropical Storm Barry is expected to be a full-blown hurricane by the time it hits land in the gulf coast early Saturday morning. It is the first hurricane of the season.

For days Chief August Creppel of the United Houma Nation, south of New Orleans, and his staff have been issuing warnings and preparing its 17,000-plus members to evacuate 24 hours in advance. The tribe’s headquarters is in Golden Meadow along the gulf and in the direct path of the storm. Most of the members live in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish which are both under emergency evacuation orders by local officials.

This photo was taken in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. Some tribal members didn’t rebuild after Katrina. (Facebook)

‘Definitely thousands of our people will be affected by the hurricane,’ warns the chief. He also serves as firefighter and will be on duty until Monday morning.

‘We have a radio station,’ says Creppel. ‘I have a council of people in different areas who keep in contact with local communities. We also have a tribal website we put out information.’

On the front page of the tribe’s website is a form members can fill out to report storm damage and request funds for repairs once they return home.

Tribal members packed their bags and piled furniture high on Thursday to try and avoid the expected floodwaters as much as possible. Nothing is guaranteed because the storms seem to be increasing due to climate change.

A Category 1 hurricane used to be ‘no problem,’ said Chief Creppel. ‘Normally our people would just ride it out, but now it doesn’t take much high water and our people are already flooded.’

Because they are only state-recognized tribe he will not get direct federal aid to help his tribal members. They will rely on state assistance, the goodwill of donors and emergency-assistant groups like the Red Cross, which has already contacted the tribe.

‘We can do more for our people once we get federal recognition,’ he says. ‘Right now, I’m trying to push through Congress to get a bill passed.’

The Tunica Biloxi tribe has a big pavilion and are set up to host storm evacuees. Tunica is a three-hour drive away.

Houma citizens can also seek shelter with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw which is a five- to six-hour drive away. Both of those tribes are federally-recognized.”