NatGeo Photo Series Makes the Case for Native American Sovereignty

“We Are Here” is the title of the report from National Geographic’s latest issue that is filled with striking photos that highlight the people behind the push for Native American sovereignty.

National Geographic’s story covers a range of Native American tribes and features photos that document the people behind the push for their sovereignty.

“Sovereignty of Indigenous nations means both the freedom to decide one’s actions and the responsibility to maintain the balance of the world,” the story reads.

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Growing up, Margo Robbins watched America’s fire suppression policies turn the forests around her into monocultures of Douglas firs that no longer supported species important to the Yurok people. Particularly painful was the loss of new shoots of the hazel tree, essential for the manufacture of baskets, hats and especially cradles. Not wanting to see her grandchildren raised without Yurok cribs, she co-founded the Indigenous Peoples Burning Network, which teaches fire-lighting techniques to maintain the landscape as her ancestors did. (Kiliii Yuyan/National Geographic)

Indigenous communities in North America have long fought for autonomy and sovereignty, only recently have they begun to make progress on the issue in the United States. As Washington has begun to cooperate — for example, efforts are underway to co-manage land with tribes and the Supreme Court has declared half of Oklahoma still Native American country in 2020 — the magazine highlights the emphasis on the arguments that it is still imperative that these advances continue.

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This totem pole will stand in the village of Opitsaht on Meares Island to commemorate the recent history of the Tla-o-quiaht. The skulls (far right) symbolize victims of COVID-19, students who died in residential schools, and murdered and missing Indigenous women. “When the Europeans arrived, they said we were illiterate,” says Joe Martin, the master carver overseeing the creation of the mast. “But they, too, couldn’t read our totem poles.” (Kiliii Yuyan/National Geographic)

The story is timely because earlier this week a mountain in Yellowstone National Park was renamed in honor of the Native Americans who were massacred, turning it from Mount Doane to First Peoples Mountain. Gustavus Doane led an attack in 1970 that killed 173 Native Americans, many of them elderly or children with smallpox.

‘We Are Here’ examines that amid global issues such as climate change, intense fires, rising poverty levels and more, the publication argues that the answers to many of these issues are intrinsically linked to sovereignty native american.

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Quannah Rose Chasinghorse, a groundbreaking Indigenous role model, uses her fame to support her activism, reminding people “what land you live on.” Indigenous sovereignty, she says, is essential to “defending my ways of life, trying to protect what remains.” She is Hän Gwich’in and Sičangu/Oglala Lakota, but was born on Diné (Navajo) land in Arizona. Here, Chasinghorse stands in Tse’Bii’Ndzisgaii (Monument Valley), a park administered by the Diné. (Kiliii Yuyan/National Geographic)

The publication argues that Indigenous communities have vast experience in solving some of the biggest problems facing the planet today:

Infrastructure construction: With income from their casinos and businesses, the Chahta tribe is now building roads, supporting schools, setting up clinics and building homes for their elders. The tribe has erected 17 community centers, one in almost every city in their country.

Carry out prescribed burns on their property: The Karuk, Yurok, Hupa, and Klamath tribes maintain order by regularly subjecting their land to low-intensity burns that prevent serious fires and maintain open areas, which favor game and useful plant species. Unfortunately, the land is no longer theirs (in the eyes of the law), carrying out such burnings is no longer their responsibility. With park services and other government agencies lacking the funding or manpower to perform burns, wildfires are occurring at an unnecessarily high rate.

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Low, cool-weather flames – during a training exercise led by Yurok – are burning harmlessly in the underbrush near Orleans, California, consuming fuel that could cause dangerous conflagrations. After miners, farmers, and state and federal governments took their lands, Indigenous nations were forced to stop protective burns — a major reason today’s wildfires are so destructive. . (Kiliii Yuyan/National Geographic)

Growing cleaner water: Tribes including the Karuk, Yurok, Hupa and Klamath tribes who fought for the removal of dams along the Klamath River, which will help restore the river’s natural flow, improve water quality and reviving the region’s reduced salmon migrations.

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With a dip net, fisherman Karuk Ryan Reed searches for chinook salmon under the watchful eye of his father, Ron, on California’s Klamath River at Ishi Pishi Falls. The reeds did not catch any fish, unlike ancient times. Before California became a state, the river hosted about 500,000 salmon each fall, but last year only 53,954 mature Chinooks swam, a 90% decline. The nation now restricts salmon fishing to Ishi Pishi Falls, but with the planned removal of four dams, the Karuk hope the salmon will return. (Kiliii Yuyan/National Geographic)

Restocking bison populations: For example, the Siksikaititapi herd bison in Montana after part of calculated attacks on native lands and culture. Today they have nearly a thousand animals and meat is available from the reserve’s grocery store, with the larger aim of creating ecosystems teeming with free-roaming buffalo.

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The Siksikaitsitapi have herded bison in Montana since the mid-1970s, but systematic restoration didn’t begin there until 2009 on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. Today they have nearly a thousand animals and the meat is available at the reservation grocery store. But for bison program director Ervin Carlson, the most important goal is to recreate the landscapes of Siksikaitsitapi, ecosystems teeming with free-roaming bison. (Kiliii Yuyan/National Geographic)

The history of the different tribes is impactful, but so are the photos that help introduce the subject. National Geographic says the images bring the cause of Indigenous sovereignty to life.

For more on this story, visit National Geographic or see the July 2022 issue.

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