We Come as Friends

“We Come As Friends” Explores the Beautiful Nightmare of South Sudan

As a filmmaker, Hubert Sauper does not take the road less traveled. That would be far too easy. He doesn’t, in fact, take roads much at all. First he spent two years on his French farm building his own ultralight plane out of tin and canvas and lawnmower wheels. Then, in 2010, he flew it from France to southern Sudan. And then things got interesting.

The Austrian-born Sauper spent the next two years flitting around the country in his rickety, two-seat, single-engine prop plane, keeping his eyes open and his camera rolling. The result, We Come As Friends (which opened in New York on August 14 and will screen nationwide throughout the fall), is an improbable, cinematic magical mystery tour of a documentary: a portrait of a new nation being born out of the ashes of civil war amid a swarm of self-professed do-good American evangelicals, expat humanitarians, Chinese oil workers, and South Sudanese power brokers — most of whom seem to do anything but good. The film comes at an opportune time, as another in a long line of potential peace deals to end South Sudan’s 18-month-old civil war has evaporated. While it does so in exceptionally subtle fashion, We Come as Friends helps explain just how things got to this tragic point.

The acclaimed director of 2004’s Darwin’s Nightmare, a harrowing study of globalization and economic exploitation in Tanzania, Sauper works in verite style and doesn’t lean on talking heads, title cards, or scolding voiceovers about the ills of neocolonialism, racism, globalization, or capitalism. Instead he allows his subjects to do the heavy lifting. “There must be a reason they’re still 200 years behind the rest of the world,” says a British Iraq War veteran, in Sudan to defuse landmines for an aid group, of the people he has come to help. Nineteenth-century “dark continent” themes seem barely submerged as the U.S. ambassador announces, “Today we are, literally and figuratively, bringing light,” before flipping the switch at a ceremony celebrating a modest electrical power project. And then there are the American Christian missionaries. “They don’t understand property ownership the way you and I do,” says one. “You were here first, but now there’s a fence here, so…” was how another explained it to locals who complained when the Americans took away grazing land to build a house for themselves.

Some of Sauper’s directorial decisions skirt the outer limits of heavy-handedness. He pans his camera from the partying of United Nations staff on South Sudan’s independence day to a lonely South Sudanese cleaning up the grounds outside or juxtaposes combat footage shot by a soldier, replete with gunfire and corpses, with a scene of white folks relaxing at some posh resort. We’re never given much context about these episodes, but far from phony, the contrasts ring true; anyone who has spent much time in the country (especially the capital, Juba) has no doubt witnessed similar incongruities.

In Darwin’s Nightmare, which shows how an invasive species of fish upends not only the local economy but the entire society around Lake Victoria, Sauper demonstrated an uncanny ability to document the everyday horrors of the developing world with an artist’s visual sensibility. The result was disturbing and beautiful. We Come as Friends shares the same DNA.

Sauper understands the power of ambiguity and its ability to involve the viewer in his investigations, so there isn’t much context or explanation anywhere in We Come as Friends. But this film isn’t about easy narratives or perfectly packaged stories. It’s about big themes told in very small fashion — a collection of discrete, seemingly disconnected vignettes mixed with stunning, sometimes dizzying, aerial footage taken from his trusty tin can, the aptly named Sputnik.


Sauper’s flying machine, “Sputnik,” over the Mediterranean Sea, on the way to South Sudan. Photo: Courtesy of Hubert Sauper

“The airplane was the key of this whole project,” Sauper said at a recent New York City screening of the film. “We are obviously Europeans … and we also repeat, despite ourselves, all these patterns. You know, like going to other places, discovering adventure. The notion of adventure is a very European, kind of colonial idea, right? Going to different worlds and the science fiction narrative is a post-colonial phenomenon; traveling through time and space and penetrating these other worlds, encountering these kinds of sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly other beings.”

Sauper wrapped up filming before December 2013 when South Sudan plunged into the current civil war. Today, it would be impossible to do what he did, though it was hardly less so then. For that alone, he deserves credit. For the documentary he made, Sauper deserves praise. Thoughtful and moving, We Come as Friends encourages the viewer to look closely and think deeply. “A lot of times … we, as filmmakers, were like ‘What the hell are we doing here?’” Sauper admitted at the Manhattan screening. “We’re just another set of white guys … and sometimes, you go, ‘Okay, we’re making a movie, but does it make sense at all?’” People interested in South Sudan or Africa or the human condition would be well-served by spending 110 minutes with We Come as Friends and answering that question for themselves.

Nick Turse is the author of Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam and Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. He has reported from South Sudan, most recently earlier this year.

Photo: Adolescent boy from the Bari tribe, South Sudan, apparently imitating the tribal traditions of warriors putting ashes on their body. This ash is produced from burning trash. 

The film opens at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles and the AFI Silver Theater in Washington D.C. on August 21. It will continue to open across the nation with engagements in markets including Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and more. Sauper will be participating in special appearances and Q&As in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.

WE COME AS FRIENDS is a modern odyssey – a dizzying, almost science fiction-like journey into the heart of Africa. At the moment when the Sudan, the continent’s biggest country, is being divided into two nations, an old “civilizing” ideology re-emerges – one of colonialism and  a clash of empires – with new episodes of bloody (and holy) wars over land and resources.  Academy Award® nominated director of Darwin’s Nightmare, Hubert Sauper, takes us on a voyage in his tiny, self-made aircraft constructed from tin and canvas, leading us into the most improbable locations and into people’s thoughts and dreams in both stunning and heartbreaking ways. Chinese oil workers, UN peacekeepers, Sudanese warlords, and American evangelists ironically weave common ground in this documentary.


Hey there, this post will be it until mid-September.  Please share this film.  Go see it.  Time for a road trip and a family reunion…  XOX Lara Trace XOX

SOLD: Human Trafficking (videos)


BBC VIDEO published on Aug 1, 2015

Human trafficking is a global problem, with the UN saying victims come from as many as 152 countries, and that a third of those trafficked are children.  BBC News focused on three countries, talking to people who have been trafficked and also to the traffickers themselves.   **Video contains some harrowing testimony**



A few years ago I decided to dedicate more of this blog to cover stories on human trafficking.  This 2007 video is horrifying. Supposedly this was produced by actor George Clooney.

We have a problem. Trafficking is modern slavery.

WINNER, SD - OCTOBER 12:  A spiritual camp, set up by numerous Native American tribes in protest over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, is seen near the spot where the pipeline would pass on October 12, 2014 outside Winner, South Dakota.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Beyond Mascots and Casinos #NativeLivesMatter

By Trace

This is not a media bash or “poverty porn.” This story reflects how things are… As sovereigns, it’s up to the tribes to decide what to tackle, fix or change. Have a good weekend everyone! XOX

13 Issues Facing Native People Beyond Mascots And Casinos

These are the problems you’re not hearing enough about.

Most of the recent headlines about indigenous Americans have had to do with a certain D.C. football team, or a surpassingly dumb Adam Sandler movie, or casinos of the kind operated by the fictional Ugaya tribe on “House of Cards.” And we’re not saying these issues don’t matter. But beyond the slot machines, the movie sets and the football fields, there are other problems facing Native communities — insidious, systemic, life-or-death problems; the kinds of problems it takes years and votes and marches to resolve — that aren’t getting nearly as much attention.

There are 567 tribes, including 229 Alaska Native communities, currently recognized by the federal government. The Bureau of Indian Affairs — the primary federal agency in charge of relations with indigenous communities — is also considering extending federal status to Native Hawaiians.

Each of the federally recognized tribes is a nation unto itself — sovereign, self-determining and self-governing — that maintains a government-to-government relationship with the United States. In addition, the rights of all indigenous peoples, including Native Hawaiians, have been affirmed in a 2007 United Nations declaration. Each indigenous nation has a distinct history, language and culture. While many face concerns that are specific to their government, state, or region, there are certain issues that affect all Native communities throughout the United States — from Hawaii to Maine, and Alaska to Florida.

Here are 13 such issues that you probably aren’t hearing enough about.

Native Americans face issues of mass incarceration and policing.

Thanks in large part to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has insisted that demands for justice and equality for the black community remain part of the national conversation, there is now growing momentum to address the issues of policing and mass incarceration. But while the brutalization of black Americans at the hands of police, and their maltreatment within the criminal justice system, have garnered national headlines, similar injustices against Native Americans have gone largely unreported.

Earlier this month, Paul Castaway, a mentally ill Rosebud Sioux tribal citizen, was shot and killed by Denver police. His death led to protests in the Denver Native community, and has shed light on the shocking rate at which police kill Native Americans — who account for less than 1 percent of the national population, but who make up nearly 2 percent of all police killings, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Native peoples are also disproportionately affected by mass incarceration. In states with significant Native populations, Native Americans are wildly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. In South Dakota, for example, Native Americans make up 9 percent of the total population, but 29 percent of the prison population. In Alaska, Native people account for 15 percent of the total population and 38 percent of the prison population. And Native Hawaiians are only 10 percent of the state’s population, but 39 percent of the incarcerated population.

The issue of mass incarceration in Native communities is complicated by overlapping and unresolved conflicts between tribal, federal and state jurisdictions. If a crime is thought to have occurred on a Native reservation or within a Native community, it’s not always clear which agency is going to be in charge of prosecution. That’s determined by a complex set of factors, including the severity of the charges and the races of the victims and alleged perpetrators. The overlapping jurisdictions of federal and tribal sovereignty also mean that Indians who commit crimes on tribal lands can be punished twice for the same offense: once under federal jurisdiction and again in tribal court. Lastly, aside from cases of domestic violence, tribal courts are not allowed to try major crimes as defined under the Major Crimes Act. This means that suspects in most felony cases are prosecuted in federal courts, where sentencing tends to be more severe.

In February, building off the momentum of Black Lives Matter, the Lakota Peoples’ Law Project released its “Native Lives Matter” report, which gives an overview of the inequities faced by Native Americans in the criminal justice system. The report, like the voices of Native peoples in general, has been largely ignored in the growing national conversation about policing and criminal justice reform.

Native communities are often impoverished and jobless.

Native peoples suffer from high rates of poverty and unemployment. Seventeen percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and 27 percent of all self-identified Native Americans and Alaska Natives live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

However, the national figure distorts the prevalence of poverty on Indian reservations and in Alaska Native communities, where 22 percent of Native people live. In 2012, three of the five poorest counties in the U.S., and five of the top 10, encompassed Sioux reservations in North and South Dakota.

Last year, President Barack Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux on the border of North and South Dakota, where the poverty rate is 43.2 percent — almost three times the national average. The unemployment rate on the Standing Rock Reservation was over 60 percent as of 2014.

The federal government is still stripping Native people of their land.

The U.S. was built on land taken from Indian nations, and indigenous peoples across the country are still living with the reality of dispossession. Right now, members of the San Carlos Apache Nation in Arizona are fighting the sale of their sacred Oak Flat site to foreign mining conglomerates.

The Kanaka Maoli in Hawaii are fighting to protect their sacred mountain Mauna Kea from the construction of a 30-meter, $1.4 billion telescope. Many Hawaiians are now questioning the legality of the state’s annexation, which took place after a group of business interests, most of them American, overthrew of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.

And in the heartland, the Great Sioux Nation has refused a $1.3 billion settlement as payment for the government’s illegal seizure of their sacred Black Hills in South Dakota in 1877. The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt are etched into the Black Hills at Mount Rushmore.

Exploitation of natural resources threatens Native communities.

Throughout the history of North American settlement, the territorial dispossession of indigenous peoples has gone hand in hand with natural resource exploitation. In the 1800s, Indian nations in the West clashed with miners pouring into their territories in search of gold.

Today, from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to the Tar Sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada, Indian nations often stand on the front lines of opposition to hydraulic fracturing and pipelines that pump oil out of indigenous communities — violating treaty rights, threatening the environment and contributing to climate change in the process.

Other groups, however, such as the Ute Tribe in Utah and the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota, have tried to make the most out of the economic opportunities presented by oil and natural gas extraction. For the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, the rush to cash in on oil has resulted in a mess of inadequate regulation and corruption — including allegations of murder for hire.

Violence against women and children is especially prevalent in Native communities.

Native American communities — and particularly Native women and children — suffer from an epidemic of violence. Native women are 3.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted in their life than women of other races. Twenty-two percent of Native children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder — a rate of PTSD equal to that found among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Often, this violence comes from outside the community. The nonprofit Mending the Sacred Hoop, citing 1990s data from the CDC and the Department of Justice, reports that “over 80% of violence experienced by Native Americans is committed by persons not of the same race,” a rate “substantially higher than for whites or blacks.”

However, some progress has been made. This year, despite staunch GOP opposition, tribes won the right to prosecute non-Native men who commit crimes of domestic violence or dating violence or who violate orders of protection against Native women on Indian reservations. Tribes have continued to push for control over justice systems on sovereign Indian land, in spite of resistance from state, local and federal lawmakers and law enforcement authorities.

The education system is failing Native students.

Only 51 percent of Native Americans in the class of 2010 graduated high school. Native Hawaiians fare better, but still underperform compared to their peers — as best we can tell from the limited data, anyway. In the mid-’00s, about 70 percent of Native Hawaiians attending Hawaiian public schools graduated in four years, as compared to 78 percent of students statewide.

For Native Americans, at least, these disparities are in large part the result of inadequate federal funding, to the point where some schools on Indian reservations are deteriorated and structurally dangerous.

Native families live in overcrowded, poor-quality housing.

Forty percent of Native Americans who live on reservations are in substandard housing. One-third of homes are overcrowded, and less than 16 percent have indoor plumbing. Housing on reservations is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered and augmented by tribes, and has been historically underfunded, despite treaties and the trust responsibility of the federal government.

Native patients receive inadequate health care.

Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians face massive disparities in health as compared to the general population, suffering from high rates of diabetes, obesity, substance abuse and HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Although Native Americans and Alaska Natives are eligible to receive health care through Indian Health Services, nearly one in three are uninsured. Like many other federal agencies that serve Native people, IHS has historically been underfunded. Local IHS facilities often lack basic services like emergency contraception, in some cases forcing Native patients to travel hundreds of miles for treatment elsewhere.

There’s a dearth of capital and financial institutions in Native communities.

Indian nations do not own their reservation lands. Rather, the lands are held in trust by the federal government. This prevents Native Americans who live on reservations from leveraging their assets for loans, making it difficult for them to start businesses or promote economic growth in the area.

Compounding this problem, 14.5 percent of Native Americans are unbanked, and therefore lack the basic financial resources needed for economic prosperity.

Native Americans have the right to vote… but that’s not always enough.

Native Americans and Alaska Natives are often unable to vote because there are no polling places anywhere near them. Some communities, such as the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada and the Goshute Reservation in Utah, are located more than 100 miles from the nearest polling place.

These problems are compounded by high rates of illiteracy in some rural Native communities, such as the Yup’ik in Alaska, who primarily speak and read their native language because public education was not available in their region until the 1980s.

There is an epidemic of youth suicide in Native communities.

Suicide is the second most common cause of death for Native youth ages 15 to 24 — two and a half times the national rate for that age group. In February, following a rash of suicides, the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota declared a state of emergency.

Native languages are dying, and the U.S. government is doing little to help.

Native languages are struggling to survive in the United States, with 130 “at risk,” according to UNESCO, and another 74 “critically endangered.” While some communities, such as the Native Hawaiians, the Anishinaabe and the Navajo, have had success preserving and revitalizing their languages, Native communities face obstacles from the testing and curriculum requirements of No Child Left Behind. And educators who want to teach young people about Native languages and cultures have to contend with a general lack of funding and resources.

Many Native communities do not have their rights recognized by the federal government.

Native Hawaiians, and members of many other Native communities throughout the U.S., have never received federal recognition of their rights as Native peoples. This deprives them of basic services, and even of the limited rights of self-governance available to other Native communities. Many tribes spend decades wading through Bureau of Indian Affairs paperwork, only to lose their petitions for recognition.

Recently, however, the Obama administration announced that it would be streamlining the federal recognition process, making it easier for unrecognized Indian nations to secure their rights under the law.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


cnn hero

Fulfilling a promise to her Native American grandmother

CNN PHOTO: Rochelle lives in Glastonbury CT ( we met a few years back when I was working with the Mashantucket Pequot)

By Allie Torgan, CNN

Rochelle Ripley’s nonprofit has delivered an estimated $9 million in services and goods to the Lakota people. She and volunteers run a food bank and provide free health services, home renovations and educational opportunities

In an isolated area of South Dakota — a three-hour drive from the nearest large city — some 6,000 Native Americans struggle to survive on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

They are members of the Lakota tribe. Poverty runs rampant on the reservation. So does unemployment, alcoholism and diabetes. Suicide rates are also high.

Rochelle Ripley is working to change that.

Growing up, Ripley spent her summers listening to her grandmother’s stories.

Her grandmother, a full-blooded Lakota, taught her about their culture and the struggles faced by the people.

“She taught us to be very proud of who we were. Our people have survived through all of the challenges that have come over the generations,” Ripley said.

Before her grandmother died, she asked Ripley to do one thing: Go home and help their people.

Today, Ripley is fulfilling that promise.

“The spirit of the people, it’s alive. But they struggle with the conditions tremendously,” Ripley said.

Through her nonprofit, hawkwing, she has delivered an estimated $9 million in services and goods to the Lakota people.

Ripley and her group help them find jobs and live in safe homes and provide them with healthy food.

Four to five times a year, Ripley makes the trip from her home in Connecticut to the Cheyenne River Reservation. Working alongside the tribe, she and volunteers run a food bank and provide free health services, home renovations and educational opportunities.

For Ripley, the main goal is honoring the Native American people with dignity.

“My grandma gave me the gift of being put on this path,” said Ripley, who is one-quarter Lakota. “To be able to both honor her and to honor our people here, that’s the reason for life.”




CNN spoke to Ripley about her efforts on the reservation. Below is an edited version of the conversation.

CNN: You have been steadily providing help to the reservation for 16 years. How do you begin to address the myriad issues there?

Rochelle Ripley: I describe what hawkwing does as a table and that there’s four legs to the table: housing, health, employment and education/job skills. And the tabletop is jobs. Until those four legs are secured and solid, we can’t put the top on.

We started by providing a holiday gift box to every child on the reservation, about 2,600. They all get new clothes, toys, books, personal care products and school supplies. It was to form and build relationships. We continue that to this day.

About seven years ago, we added a variety of direct service projects like medical and dental clinics, construction work and youth activities. Through hawkwing’s efforts, we’ve provided between 100,000 and 125,000 pounds of food, and we get in everything from beds to washers and dryers.”

CNN: Health issues are a big challenge on the reservation. How do you help?

Ripley: We really do work collaboratively with the tribe everywhere we go. We have naturopathic doctors who give out supplements and vitamins and lots of information on how to eat healthy, how to take care of your diabetes. We have a respiratory therapist meet with families that have challenges around asthma, which is also a big issue because of black mold out here. We have an acupuncturist doing acupuncture for stress management.

One of the reasons that we bring a lot of naturopathic people out as part of our medical team is because it really is paralleled to the type of medicine that our ancestors practiced. The medicines are still here all over the reservation. So many of our elders, especially, really appreciate getting that type of education and opportunity. They love getting the natural teas as part of their healing. They love working with any of the alternative ways as well as using traditional Western medicine.

CNN: You’ve turned personal tragedy into something that benefits an entire community.

Ripley: When I was child, I was a victim of a violent crime.  And during that time, I stopped speaking.  When I went to see my grandma, she did a healing ceremony on me, and we spent the day together.  She talked about our culture.  That’s when she said to me that I was born into two worlds, because my other side is New York Jewish.  And she asked me if I would promise to go home and help our people when I grew up.

CNN: You made that promise, but it wasn’t until 45 years later that you acted on it. What triggered you?

Ripley: When my daughter came to me to tell me I was to be a grandmother for the first time, that memory came back, and I knew it was time for me to do the work that needed to be done.

In my mind, things had to have improved to some degree because it was 45 years later. I just was shocked that it was worse than I could imagine. So that was just that motivation that really spurred me on to create hawkwing. It really was the inspiration to say I understood what my grandmother meant and it was time to get moving and change things. And I decided to take my human services skills that I had built as a lifetime career and form a nonprofit to begin the process of coming home and helping.

We’re all children of this earth, and we need to work together so that everyone has a chance at having a decent life.

Want to get involved?  Check out the website at www.hawkwing.org and see how to help.

Jesse in 2009

SOLITARY: An Observation from Within by adoptee Jesse Neubert

Tamms SuperMax in Illinois was closed in 2013 – more prisons need to close

By Lara Trace Hentz  (Third Mom)


The following essay was written by my nephew Jesse Fasthorse Neubert. I’ve adopted him into my family. He first wrote to me when my article “Generation after Generation We are Coming Home” was published in 2005 about adoptees called Lost Birds.  Since then we have been in constant contact by phone and letter. Jesse calls me his “third Mom” and I am proud of that.  Jesse is incarcerated in Arizona, found guilty of armed robbery when he belonged to a gang.  He is an adoptee like me. He’s Lakota (Cheyenne River) and Dakota (Rosebud). He’s a good writer and contributed to the two anthologies Two Worlds and Called Home (excerpt.)

Until last month Jesse was held in solitary confinement.  He ate two meals a day, not three. He was very underweight. He was not allowed outside for sunlight and fresh air. I asked him to write about it so all of us would know what it feels like…  His words: An Observation from Within was written on Feb. 24, 2015.

“The use of solitary confinement contributes to untreated serious mental illness and high rates of suicide.”

By Jessup Fasthorse Neubert

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” -Dostoyevsky

I know why the caged man screams.

So that you may also come to know why he screams, take a few moments and imagine a windowless concrete room about the size of an average household bathroom. Like any other bathroom, this room has a sink and a toilet. However, in place of a bathtub or shower, there is instead a small bed and perhaps a tiny desk bolted to one of the walls. All of the walls are blank and gray and there is no mirror. The only view beyond this room is through slits or perforations in a steel door that faces nothing but another gray stark wall in an empty corridor. An oppressive white light constantly emanates from a ceiling fixture that can’t be controlled. It dims only slightly for a few hours each night. Natural sunlight or fresh air will never reach into this room. For all intents and purposes this room is nothing more than a box, a human cage. Can you imagine a room like this?

Now for a few moments longer, can you imagine being indefinitely confined to this room for months or even years on end? Imagine only being allowed out of this room of yours maybe three times each week for a limited recreation period and a brief shower. Basically only 8-10 hours of the 168 hours in each week might be spent beyond your room. Even your two daily meals will always be eaten alone at your tiny desk. An abrupt search of your room, a medical appointment or an emergency, or a two-hour visit from your loved ones once a week (typically separated by plexi-glass) might be the only other reasons that you will temporarily escape your soul-stifling room for the foreseeable future. Your desire and need to attend church or school won’t even be reason enough to leave your room since such services will almost entirely be denied to you during your confinement here. Essentially the vast majority of your daily existence has been reduced to this one room – this cage – of yours – for years, possibly decades to come. Imagine that for just a moment longer.

Imagine how being caged alone like this, for any prolonged amount of time might affect you? Could this perpetual mental, physical and spiritual separation make you scream too?

If you can imagine these dehumanizing conditions, then now you have an idea of what solitary confinement in prison is like – and now you know why a caged man screams out from within in such a place. Regrettably, solitary confinement is not some imaginary place, it’s real for those who have languished there before, or currently still are. For them solitary confinement isn’t something abstract or easily ignored – it is a suffocating reality that exists, albeit hidden, deep within the walls of variously-named isolation or control units throughout this nation’s prison system.

I am one of those unfortunate enough to know the reality of solitary confinement. Since July 2009, I’ve been indefinitely locked-down under such conditions here in Arizona’s Special Management Units (S.M.U.). (First at Eyman and now at Lewis). Whether known as an S.M.U., S.H.U., Ad.Seg. or by any other Max-Custody designation – these dark prisons within a prison all share similar or parallel details as the one I described for you.

Some may find themselves trapped in these modern dungeons for clear and easily articulated reasons – such as having committed a serious disciplinary infraction; while others may find themselves in here for less valid or speculative reasons – such as being classified as “a potential threat to security” based on groundless conjecture. Either way, both rationales will often perpetuate a prolonged or indefinite term of confinement to these units. With no serious disciplinary convictions since 2009, I remain caged in here according to the latter reasoning (speculation) by the prison administration.

During my time in this place I’ve experienced how mind-numbing and soul-wrenching it can be. I’ve observed the many forms of deterioration and madness that this place can drive men into, after years without meaningful social interaction or human contact. I’ve seen men, with and without documented Mental Health issues, decline and fall into pieces. It’s often discomforting to hear an otherwise rational man begin to mutter or talk to himself – but the screams of a man who has gone completely stir-crazy or insane in the SMU are always the most jarring. Worse still is when a man can no longer cope with this harsh reality and attempts suicide – sometimes even succeeding. Maybe the sorrow of losing a loved one while in here was too much to bear, or maybe he just could no longer endure the forced solitude – and so, feeling anguished and forsaken, he sought some desperately needed attention or an immediate end to his caged misery.

Sadly I’ve observed enough tragedy in here to know that most of it must be ascribed to solitary confinement itself. These tragedies are ongoing testament to the detrimental effects that this place will have on those subjected to these conditions. Although this crushing depravation won’t necessarily break everyone who enters it – none will emerge from it completely unaffected or unscathed. A dysfunctional behavior, a personality disorder, or a mental illness may develop or become exacerbated after years of isolation and being treated like a caged animal.

If prison is a microcosm of the problems with our society – a reflection of our degree of civilization – then the institution of solitary confinement should remind us of our most poignant failures. When institutions fail us, we as a civilized society have a moral obligation to abolish or reform those institutions. Experience compels me to argue for the former in regard to solving the problem posed by solitary confinement. We must stop living in a state of denial or ignorance about its existence, widespread use and the nature of solitary confinement. We must dispel our collective apathy or complacency towards this uncomfortable reality and instead confront this dilemma in order to address it. This is because a neglected problem will never just disappear or spontaneously solve itself – in fact, it will usually only worsen when ignored. Hence, we can no longer morally or fiscally afford the high cost of ignoring the discrepancies between the ideals we espouse and the actual practices we exhibit when it comes to the conditions in our prison systems. We must recognize that no good will ever come from the inhumane treatment of any member of our society.

For although we prisoners are currently the pariahs of society – most of us, including myself in 2016, will eventually reenter society for better or for worse.

Solitary confinement ensures the likelihood that a man will exit prison worse than when he went in because being caged alone hinders rehabilitation. As a society that claims to be civilized with a high standard of moral decency, we must then be guided by the moral discipline expressed by Goethe:

“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.”

Let’s finally put an end to solitary confinement. We need to imagine a better way.

Jessup is incarcerated in the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Arizona until 2016.  Please write him: Jesse F. Neubert, #186050, ASPC LEWIS, Buckley Unit, PO Box 3400, Buckeye, AZ 85326. He is now in general population and continuing his college degree.


Jesse and his sister Tashea were adopted together

Jesse and his sister Tashea were adopted together (All six children were adopted by Mormons)

UPDATE: Mississippi has proven that it is possible to dramatically curb the use of solitary confinement and still put safety first. Prison officials there reduced the solitary-confinement population by 90 percent. Doing so resulted in a 70 percent decrease in violence and $8 million annual savings. There are already 2,000 maximum security inmates in solitary confinement in Arizona’s prisons in 2013. Arizona Gov. Brewer was still finalizing plans in 2013 to construct 500 new maximum-security prison beds and 1,000 new privately contracted prison beds, adding to the already bloated $1 billion annual corrections spending. (Source: “More max-security prison beds make no sense” www.azcentral.com/opinions/articles/20130314)


AEON / Twilight in the Box by Shruti Ravindran

“In 2005, there were an estimated 81,600 prisoners in solitary in the US; this month’s Senate Subcommittee Hearing puts the numbers at about the same. That’s 3.6 per cent of the 2.2 million presently incarcerated, many of whom, like King, were put in there for random acts of non-violent rule-breaking. Some, like him, shuttle in and out of solitary; others remain locked up for decades. Prison authorities in every state are running a massive uncontrolled experiment on all of them. And every day, the products of these trials trickle out on to the streets, with their prospects of rehabilitation professionally, socially, even physiologically diminished.”


Jesse wrote in great detail about his adoption experience and being raised by Mormons in my book Two Worlds [read more https://larahentz.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/ebook-two-worlds/.]


Exhibition on forced adoption prompts outpouring from women moved by loss

The trauma of separation from their babies faced by 19th century unmarried mothers is still raw in responses to the Foundling Museum’s forthcoming show

Donations to fund an exhibition on unmarried women who were forced to give away their babies – dubbed “fallen women” in the 19th century – have been accompanied by poignant comments that show how deep the trauma still lies in many families, say organisers at the Foundling Museum.

The museum, which grew out of the first children’s charity in the UK and the art collection created to endow and promote it, had requested donations to fund the exhibition.

I had to give up a baby boy for adoption in 1972. I feel I have some affinity with these woman

One woman wrote on the Art Fund’s Art Happens website: “I have donated a small amount (as I can afford) to this fund as it is dear to my heart. I had to give up a baby boy to adoption in 1972. I feel I have some affinity with these women.”

Another said: “My mother was made to give her first child up for adoption in the 1930s and carried her ‘secret and shame’ for almost 40 years. Thankfully society has changed and no longer blames the mother or stigmatises her child.”

And from a single parent who kept her child: “The Foundling Museum was a profoundly moving place, allowing me to understand my place in history as a single parent. It is easier to engage with issues that have trickled down the generations. The Museum helps me see how many of today’s attitudes have deep roots. I am grateful for the opportunity to keep my child, but would like to see remaining stigma obliterated. I think the stories must be told and I applaud you for your work.””

Caro Howell, director of the museum, said they were both grateful and moved by the donations.

“We know already that this museum touches people very deeply. We have many experiences of visitors to the museum confiding to staff, without prompting, unbelievably personal stories. The staff and volunteers are very used to finding people in tears in the building. But the comments left with these donations seemed different, as if these were things people were waiting to say in public, and felt they needed to say. We all find it very moving.”

This museum touches people very deeply. Staff a used to finding people in tears in the building… –Caro Howell, Foundling Museum director

The museum displays its paintings alongside pathetic scraps of cloth, buttons and little coins, the tokens the mothers left with their babies in the desperate hope that one day they could afford to identify and claim them.

Howell said her previous jobs at the Tate and Whitechapel galleries, were all about the art. “Here it’s all about the stories. I have been moved to tears myself, sometimes quite unexpectedly while showing people around.”

All the comments have come from women.  illAnother wrote: “This is very dear to me as not only did I grow up around the corner from the museum and play in Coram’s Fields as a child, but I have also recently discovered a foundling in my family tree, albeit from another country. .”

In fact, with 10 days to go, the appeal has already raised 80% of its £23,000 target, and Howell is confident of raising the full sum for the museum’s most expensive exhibition to date, with many loans coming from overseas.

The Foundling Hospital was created when Thomas Coram, a wealthy retired sea captain and philanthropist, literally stumbled upon a baby abandoned in a gutter. He recruited all his artistic and society friends to help, including Handel who conducted an annual benefit recital of his Messiah, and Hogarth who brought in many other artists, making the charity a highly fashionable cause. The old headquarters reopened as a museum in 2004, while the Coram charity continues its work with children and families.

The new exhibition, curated by Lynda Nead, professor of art history at Birkbeck College, looks at the Foundling’s archive of detailed interviews from the 19th century period when the charity changed its policy and, instead of any mothers in need, took only illegitimate children of women judged previously of good character.

Nead says the new policy coincided exactly with the Victorian obsession with regulating sexuality and distinguishing the morally pure from the fallen. She regards The Outcast as a key work: the 1851 painting by Richard Redgrave shows a woman and her tiny baby being thrown out of the family home by her father.

Frank Holl's The Foundling.

The Victorian artists Frank Holl, admired by Van Gogh, explored the social stigma of unmarried mothers. Photograph: Mario Bettella

The exhibition, opening in September, will have rare loans including Deserted, an oil sketch of a now vanished work by the Victorian artist Frank Holl, which has only been exhibited twice since he painted it in 1874. Vincent Van Gogh greatly admired the work, claimed by the artist as based on personally witnessing the scene at Bankside in London, where a policeman took up a carefully wrapped up abandoned baby, while the mother cowered by the river bank contemplating suicide.

  • The Fallen Woman, the Foundling Museum London, 25 September – 3 January 2016
  • **The Foundling Museum was originally one of the first houses in London for abandoned children and housed over 27,000 children before its closure. Since then this London attraction has transformed itself into one a specialist London museum with a large collection of artworks and social history relating to the children taken in and the terrible social problems that led to children being abandoned by their parents.

Looking Towards Home: Walking The Red Road

…Researchers speculate that in an attempt to rise above the prejudice and overcome social ladder boundaries, many mixed race people remained silent on their African and Native American heritage in order to fit into white communities. – Black And White In America: Study Reveals Many Americans Have Mixed Race Background They Were Unaware Of (LINK)

By Lara Trace  (Harlow-Bland-Morris-Conner ancestors)

My unmarried birthparents Earl and Helen lived on the southside of Chicago in the 1950s when I was conceived.  Many people had relocated to cities for work (watch the LOOKING TOWARD HOME documentary).  Both my parents were from rural areas.  My father Earl Bland joined the Navy at age 18 and as far as I know, didn’t identify as Indian but knew he was. (Earl was mixed-American Indian and Euro – mostly Irish.) The women in the Allen-Harlow-Bland-Morris family had strong intentions to maintain and live American Indian”culture.”  The Harlow clan, to this day, hold an annual powwow gathering and talking circle.  No one I know in the family was enrolled in a tribe.  Their migrations to Illinois from Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky enter into this.  And it’s a concern.  I was not there to hear the stories of who, how and why.

I know what my father told me when we first spoke.  Could he have been wrong? Did he say Cherokee because it’s a common name, more known than the Potawatomi, Huron, or Sac and Fox? (We have a real problem in the US with so little Indian history being taught or written. Unless it’s taught at home, you’ll have a hard time finding evidence or proof of American Indians still living in Illinois.)

I had no reason to question my father Earl when I was 38.  I took him at his word.  Obviously I had questions about why I was adopted out, why they gave me away and not many questions about ancestral charts proving Indian blood. The reason I bring this up is the Indian Identity Police.  Some are suggesting if you are not an enrolled “member” of a federally recognized tribe, then you should not claim your Indian ancestry.

But Why?  I am a member of a family whose women identify as Indian for generations.

TracesBookFINAL.inddAs an mixed-race adoptee, it’s been a jagged pill for me to swallow.  I followed my instincts, not expecting I’d ever find answers. Before I finished the memoir One Small Sacrifice, my sister Teresa and I worked with a genealogist to find proof on the Morris-Conner side. (One great-grandmother Mary Francis Morris was raised by relatives who are Watson-Wards, who are enrolled Cherokee.)

How many tribes are now petitioning the federal government for “recognition” to be deemed sovereign? Over 200 tribes, such as five tribes in Virginia who are not “federally recognized.”

“How did you know you’re Indian?” My dad’s youngest sister Janie asked me once on the phone.  My aunt told me many stories about Granny Morris-Conner smoking a pipe, using tobacco as medicine and how she always knew she was Indian.

Not hesitating, I told my aunt, “I always knew.”  But I told her that until I met my father, I didn’t claim Indian ancestry. I believed it but never said it. After I met Earl and was told then I did become a “Native” journalist in 1996.

For me and for other adoptees, you’re on the Red Road with no map.  You can only follow the voice in your head.

Five years prior, in 1991, I was in Mexico and woke one night and started writing Red Man: Through the Eyes of Many. First it was a poem then developed into a series of children’s stories. I had no evil intention. I was sitting on a cold tile floor in a bathroom at 2 a.m.: this writing came like a vision and the stories just flowed out.  Later, with miraculous synchronicity, back in Oregon, I met Merle Locke, a famous Oglala Lakota ledger artist, who told me to go meet his sister Ellowyn.  I drove out to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, she read my stories, liked them lots, and taught me history at her kitchen table, history you’d never find in a book.

That same trip I did my first sweat on the Rosebud rez.

Like my grandmothers, I walk the red road without enrollment papers saying I’m Indian.


Three Tweens?


42nd Street in New York City (on the trip home Saturday) I needed to pick up a few touristy things)

IMG_2544bb kings WHAT A WEEK!

By one exhausted grandma Lara/Trace (home in steamy western Massachusetts)

Can I repeat WHAT A WEEK!

The Good News: We all survived intact!

Cami, our granddaughter from Philadelphia was here all last week.  Every year we pick her up in New York City and attempt to keep her happy and busy and playing outside. Usually we play Yahtzee and she wins big.  Before bed, we watch the Disney Channel. Plus she swims every day.

(This trip too many times I caught her watching NETFLIX on her cell phone when I thought she was sleeping.) (Me? Not happy.) (Why does she even need that cellphone? My husband then calms me down.)

Out at the pool, ten-year-old Cami (soon to be 11) invites two local tweens Abi and Jenna to play all week. (The tweens grandma’s are my condo pals.) (We’re glad Cami has friends here!)


flavored coconut water was NOT a hit with the tweens

More good news? The three tweens ate almost everything we made. (Grilled hot dogs, more please. Grape jelly on toast, yes please. VitaCoCo apple or red grape juice? No, yuck. Mango ice cream bars? Corn on the cob? More please… My fried potatoes with eggs, cheese, onion and pepper? Jenna and Abi ask for more! I’m giddy!)

The tweens put their dishes in the sink without being asked? I’m super giddy.

(I did feed Abi and Cami Happy Meals on Tuesday – they wanted the prize and ice cream sundae more than chicken nuggets.)

The worst thing to happen was when the tweens Abi and Jenna walked in duck poop during MANHUNT (tag and hide) game on Wednesday. (Duck Poop? I had no idea we had such a big beaver dam in our little creek! By the way: this is causing a swampland in our back-lot and is attracting lots of ducks and geese. The condo gossip here is a loon might be nesting, too.)

A SLEEP OVER? Are you kidding me?

That really really wasn’t in the original plan. Abi was quite the negotiator and instigator of this. I know someday this girl will be a lawyer.

So it happened… Thursday night…

Keep them occupied, my husband says… so the three tweens are putting golf-balls in our carpeted hallway winning a quarter in cash if they made it into the hole. (This golf gizmo is my husband’s and it is electric). The tweens happily take/win $20+ in coin! Cami takes top honors! (Who knew she had golf putting skill.)  Jenna chooses a music channel on TV and soon they are all singing.  My husband gives them hard hand puzzles to solve and his cash prizes are bigger than mine!

Thursday night and then Friday morning? Outside, the girls rolled a bouncy ball gently into a hula hoop for prizes. The bouncy ball game I invented was not electronic and took real skill. Getting that ball into the ice-cream pail (centered in the hula hoop) was nearly impossible yet Jenna did it twice! (She won three prizes for that each time!)

The tweens only seem to care what they can win – money or prizes.

Do you remember being 10 and 11?

Thursday night: 2 a.m., we decide we have to put the tweens in separate rooms so maybe we can all sleep?

No one died or was hurt, my husband says, so we are good for another year.

Friday: Pool Party with pizza. Over by 6 p.m. – then pack up Cami’s stuff for her trip home.

As a parting gift, our granddaughter gave grandpa a yo-yo (which she won) but wouldn’t give him any of her glow-sticks.  I’m still vacuuming up rock candy nuggets I’m stepping on… I guess that’s my prize.

On Friday, sitting outside, I ask the three tweens for a favor, one thing, something I need them to do every day. I want them to do “one act of kindness” every single day for someone else.

They all agree.


We delivered her to Katz’s Deli in NEW YORK CITY on Saturday.  Of course we brought home pastrami and corned beef for the husband. Here’s some photos I shot…




Where they filmed the hilarious scene from WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (Katz’s Deli in NYC) …Famous line: “I’ll have what she’s having.”


Bad News: Duwamish not federally recognized

Duwamish Tribe Vows to Keep Fighting for Recognition, Despite Decision

The Lummi Youth Canoe glides by an outline of Suquamish-Duwamish leader Chief Sealth.

A Lummi canoe glides by an outline of Suquamish-Duwamish leader Chief Sealth. Alex Garland


by Sydney Brownstone Jul 7, 2015 |The Stranger SLOG

On July 2, the Obama administration told Seattle’s Duwamish tribe that they don’t qualify for long-sought federal recognition. The Duwamish—who include descendants of Chief Sealth, or Seattle, the Suquamish-Duwamish leader who signed the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott—have been fighting for recognition for decades. Last week’s decision, supposedly final, prevents the Duwamish from accessing those treaty rights and economic empowerment through gaming.

On July 6, the Duwamish announced that they’ll keep fighting. Chairperson Cecile Hansen released a statement in response to the federal government’s decision, shaming the Bureau of Indian Affairs for piling on to the long history of cultural genocide:

In the eyes and mind of our people, the Duwamish Tribe does exist. We are extremely disappointed (yet again) in the BIA’s “dehumanizing” decision to do away with our existence according to the rulings that were made in the past.

Please check the history of all Washington Tribes who sought to be recognized by the BIA since the 70’s and are now considered to be legitimate tribes. There is room for us all. Unfortunately, the task of conquering the process of proving our own existence has eluded the Duwamish despite our long history dating back thousands of years.

Chief Seattle’s Duwamish people were friendly to the first pioneers and city fathers. We sacrificed our land to make the City of Seattle a beautiful reality. We are still waiting for our justice.

The Duwamish Tribe completed the first regulations and endured the long, long, long waiting period receiving (2) preliminary negative determinations over the years. Finally, we succeeded and were recognized by the Clinton Administration in 2001, to only have it taken away by President Bush eight months later. Under this appeal process, we have again been denied our rightful place in the history of Seattle. Is all complete in the business of the total genocide of the Duwamish People ~ the people of Chief Sealth for whom our great city is named?


The Duwamish also announced that they’d be holding a press conference related to the decision at their Longhouse.

In the meantime, here are three things to know about the Duwamish and federal recognition:

1. The federal government denied the Duwamish recognition based on seven criteria, three of which the government says the Duwamish did not meet. So, to clarify: In order for a group of people who had populated what we now call Seattle for thousands of years to be seen as authentic enough by a government that has only existed for a few centuries, the burden has been placed on indigenous communities to “prove” how Indian they are.

Criterion 83.7(a), for example, requires that the tribe be identified by “outside observers” on a continual basis since 1855. I called up University of British Columbia historian Coll Thrush to understand more fully what that, and the other criteria, meant. “If white people don’t think these are Native people, then that matters,” he explained, “which is a pretty biased criterion.”

2. The other two criteria dinged the Duwamish for not maintaining a “distinct community” since first contact with non-Indians and not maintaining “identified leaders” before 1939.

3. There are several reasons why it may have been pretty difficult to maintain “distinct community” after first contact with settlers in Seattle or after 1855. Here are just a handful:

• Seattle’s early leadership, a “Board of Trustees,” passed a law in 1865 mandating the removal of Native Americans from the city.

• In 1866, Congressman Arthur Denny fought against establishing a Duwamish reservation.

• “There was a proposed Duwamish reservation in Tukwila and basically every white man in King County signed a petition against that, so it was never ratified or established,” Thrush said. Business leaders like sawmill-owner Henry Yesler also made statements against a Duwamish reservation. “[A reservation] would have taken a chunk of land out of the jurisdiction of white landowners and put it in the jurisdiction of the federal government,” Thrush added. “There are these series of moments in the 19th century that work against the Duwamish as a distinct community.”

• White settlers burned down Duwamish longhouses. The last one was destroyed in 1893.

• In 1916, Seattleites lowered the level of Lake Washington to build the Lake Washington Ship Canal, which drained the Black River. The Duwamish had lived and fished on the Black River for at least a millennium. An account of that day from one Duwamish descendant interviewed at the time described the disappearance of the Black River as “quite a day for white people at least. The waters just went down, down, until our landing and canoes stood dry and there was no Black River at all. There were pools, of course, and the struggling fish trapped in them. People came from miles around, laughing and hollering and stuffing fish into gunny sacks.” Because of that, according to Thrush’s book, Native Seattle, Seattle settlers had “dramatically reduced the utility—and habitability—of that landscape for indigenous people.”

Despite all of these attempts to erase the Duwamish people from Seattle—including a diaspora created by the very government that is now penalizing the tribe for having a diaspora—they’re still here today. The BIA also found that the Duwamish did meet the last four criteria, one of which is the fact that 99 percent of the tribe has already proved their ancestry to the pre-1880 Duwamish.

Chief Si’ahl (top photo)

 “This we know; The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.  This we know, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family.  All things are connected”

–Chief Si’ahl, Namesake of the City of Seattle

Good News: Pamunkey federally recognized

By Lara Trace Hentz

Hey everyone! I am still adjusting to this new HP computer I’ve named JUNIOR. He’s not the machine I had prior… he lacks pizzazz and computing space…

I do hope you are enjoying your summer up until now.

Here’s some good news: Congrats to the Pamumkey for becoming the 567 federally recognized tribe. That is no small accomplishment – considering some sovereign nations like the Mashpee Wampanoag waited 30+ years for that designation. The Pamunkey are one of six tribes in Virginia and they are the FIRST to receive this recognition… Visit them here. My prayer is more tribes will be recognized in the near future, like my friends in the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation in Connecticut (who have waited many years and politics intervened.)

One of my granddaughters is coming for a visit so next week I won’t be posting. Cami is now 10, soon to be 11 and we have so much to do, like playing Yahtzee (I used to be the Queen but now she is) and we’re going to Chatham on the Cape to see a great white shark. We tried before and no great white appeared but maybe this time we’ll be luckier.

If you can’t get away, I suggest you take a visual vacation here:

National Museum of the American Indian

There are many tribes who are not federally recognized like the Meherrin Nation in North Carolina, and sadly it takes big money, tons of historic papers and many years to petition the US gov’t to achieve this designation.

Meet Native America: Wayne Mackanear Brown, Principal Chief of the Meherrin Nation

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Chief Brown on Meherrin land

Principal Chief Wayne Mackanear Brown on Meherrin tribal land. The three figures at the lower edge of the chief’s regalia represent the Tuscarora, Meherrin, and Nottoway peoples—nations of the Southern Iroquois Confederacy.


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Wayne Mackanear Brown, Principal Chief of the Meherrin Nation—Kauwets’a:ka, or People of the Water.

Can you share with us your Native name and its English translation?

It’s Shagoiewatha. It means One Who Causes to Awaken.

Where is the Meherrin Nation located?

Our tribal office is in Ahoskie, North Carolina—near Potecasi Creek in Hertford County.          

Where were the Meherrin people originally from?

According to Mohawk history, approximately 2,000 years ago the Haudenosaunee lived in the Great Plains alongside the great river called the Mississippi. Their closest friends and allies were the Pawnee Nation. For unknown reasons all the Haudenosaunee Nations, including the Meherrin, left and started a migration up the Ohio River Trail towards the Great Lakes. The Tuscarora, Meherrin, and Nottoway split off from their brothers and traveled down the Kanawha River. The Meherrin settled in what is now Emporia, Virginia.

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

The first written account of the customs of the Meherrin people was made in 1650 when Sir Edward Bland visited the Meherrin Nation in their main village called Cowonchahawkon. Another turning point in the history of the Meherrin people came in 1680 when our Principal Chief Ununtequero and Next Chief Harehannah were the last chiefs of all the nations in Virginia to sign the Middle Plantation Treaty of 1677.  Shortly thereafter they abandoned this village and started their migration to present-day North Carolina.  

How is your tribal government set up? How often are elected leaders chosen?

We have a Principal Chief and seven council members. All of them are elected every four years.

How often does your council meet?

Both Tribal Council and general body meetings are held once a month.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Yes, we are transitioning from a provisional government to our traditional government, the Great Law. The first Great Law review in over two hundred years was reintroduced to the Meherrin people in 2010 by Wolf Clan Chief Billy Lazore of Onondaga Territory; Joe Logan (Skyyoh-weho), Wolf Clan of Oneida Territory; and Michael Jock (Kanaratanoron), Bear Clan of Mohawk Territory in Akwesasne, New York.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe/band/Native community?

My father tacitly taught me to be patient and tolerant of other people, to reason and think things through before speaking, and most important to show the utmost respect for women. My mother, grandmother, and aunts taught me to have humility, responsibility, and love of family, to treat my brothers, sisters and cousins not only as relatives but as my best friends.

They also taught me about natural law—to learn from the animals and to follow the natural flow of things. The college and university where I matriculated and obtained my B.S. degree in Political Science and Social Studies and my Master’s degree in Social American History prepared me to deal with the world from man-made, human law. These two different sorts of laws made me understand the two different worlds that I had to live and function in. Natural law taught me a better way to communicate and deal with fellow human beings, regardless of their race or color.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

As Principal Chief of the Meherrin Nation, I am responsible for the well-being of all the people. I am the spokesperson of our nation and the ambassador to other nations. It is my responsibility to follow the Great Law and carry out the will of the people.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

I must respond to this question from two perspectives, one of the ancient world and the other of today’s world. Deganahwideh, the Great Peacemaker, gave all Ongewe-oweh People the Great Law and the Great Tree of Peace and Friendship. Eventually this Great Tree of Peace was extended to all nations that would follow the white roots back to the tree. This is truly a great and divine document that has existed on Turtle Island for over 1,000 years.

Chief Joseph, who did not shrink from the performance of his duties as chief in trying to save his people, is my second mentor of the past. He should be revered as one of a great strategist. Leading his people, including women, children, and elders, he eluded the United States military for nearly two thousand miles through Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in attempt to reach the Canadian border to save his nation. Yes, he is one of my heroes of the past!

Lastly, in modern-day times, Kanaratanoron (Michael Jock) is my mentor in helping me to understand the oral history of the Great Law as recited to him by the elders. He is also instrumental in returning the Strawberry Ceremony to the Meherrin Nation after two centuries.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

When I speak to groups of people at special events, I speak of the great chiefs who were great orators as if they were my fathers. Thus I consider them as my descendants. My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great grandmother are historical leaders who fought to keep our heritage alive when most denied or did not know their culture. They are my historical leaders.

Approximately how many members are in the Meherrin Nation?

There are approximately 250 active members.

What are the criteria to become a member of your Native community?

Applicants must be able to demonstrate a continuous family history that ties them to the eight major families who have been in this area since the 1700s.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? 

No, we do not have any fluent speakers. However, the language is being taught at the conclusion of every general body meeting.

What economic enterprises does your community own?

The Meherrin Nation owns approximately 49.5 acres of land.  Our tribal office and several other buildings are located on the property.

Chief Brown Emporia Heritage Day 2013

Principal Chief Brown speaking on Heritage Day 2013 in Emporia, Virginia.


What annual events does your nation sponsor? 

The most important event held annually is the Strawberry Ceremony. The Harvest Festival and annual powwow are held the first weekend of October. Next year in April we will be holding our Herring Fish Ceremony for the first time in two centuries.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The museum and the palisade village are the two main attractions available to visitors on the land.

How does your nation deal with the United States?

The Meherrin Nation has a historical treaty with the state of North Carolina through the Treaty of March 4, 1729. When the United States was created after the American Revolutionary War, North Carolina continued to recognize the Meherrin Nation. To this date, there is no documentation to show that this recognition was ever extinguished by North Carolina or the United States government.

In 1802, some of the Meherrins were taken under the protection of the Iroquois Confederacy of the Five Nations. Principal Chief Ununtequero and Next Chief Horehonnah were the last two signers of the Middle Plantation Treaty of 1677 of Virginia, in 1680. Today, when I speak before any representatives of the United States government or any state government concerning First Nations peoples’ affairs, I do so in full regalia and by our traditional protocols.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?

This message is not meant just for the youth of my nation, but for the youth of all my brothers and sisters throughout Turtle Island: More than ever before, get an education to keep the culture alive. Become historians, attorneys, and anthropologists, so that we can write our own history from our ancestors’ perspectives. Do not let non-Indian people define you. Here is a Seneca proverb that explains it best:

The Great Spirit has made us what we are: it is not his will that we should be changed. If it was his will, he would let us know; if it is not his will, it would be wrong for us to attempt it, nor could we, by any art, change our nature.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We must take the lead in preserving Mother Earth. Listen to the words of the Mohawk writer Peter Blue Cloud:

Will you ever begin to understand the meaning of the very soil beneath your feet? From a grain of sand to a great mountain, all is sacred; Yesterday and tomorrow exist eternally upon this continent. We natives are guardians of this sacred place.

Thank you.

For more information on the Meherrin Nation, see http://www.meherrinnation.org/index2.html.

Photos courtesy of the Meherrin Nation. Used with permission.

I also want my readers to check out THE MIX posts (also in my blog sidebar.)

Happy Summer Adventures to all of you… PEACE AND LOVE… Lara Trace

The Story Behind the First Adoption Museum Project in the U.S.


by Andy Wright / 30 Jun 2015

Over 1,500 children were transferred to the Presidio, a former army base in San Francisco, before being placed with families during Operation babylift. This image depicts a baby being tended to at Harmon Hall in the Presidio, San Francisco. (Photo: National Park Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area)

In the early days of April 1975, just weeks before the Fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, a campaign was launched to evacuate thousands of children from Vietnam and place them with families in the United States and its allies. War had devastated the country, tearing families asunder. But “Operation Babylift” was controversial; not all of the children adopted were orphans. And spotty record keeping has made it difficult or impossible for many adoptees to locate their Vietnamese families.

Operation Babylift has been memorialized in museums and examined from many angles, but until now, no museum existed to document if from perhaps its most personally affecting and lasting legacy: adoption. Now, thanks to the efforts of one Bay Area women, the U.S. has its first adoption museum.

Beds line Harmon Hall, which was transformed into a makeshift nursery. (Photo: National Park Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area)

The project began in 2011 after Laura Callen had just had her second child and was feeling reflective. She wondered, “What’s next?” And her thoughts turned to adoption.

Callen is adopted, and while she knew she was an adoptee, it wasn’t something that was openly discussed in her family.

And that’s when she first began to plot an adoption museum.

While there are archives and history projects that document parts of adoption, Callen saw a need for an organization dedicated entirely to collecting an experience historically shrouded in secrecy, stigma and shame.

A marketing and communications professional, the Berkeley-based Callen spent the next year and a half refining the concept and bouncing the idea off adoption professionals, entrepreneurs and museum experts. In 2013 she founded the Museum Adoption Project, began fundraising, and pulled together a leadership team whose credentials include the Guggenheim and J. Paul Getty Museum.

“People really don’t know how to talk about adoption,” says Callen.

A birth mother’s hospital bracelet bares a false name. The objects were displayed around a table. (Photo Indira Urrutia and Marc Hors. Courtesy the Adoption Museum Project.)

Callen says a key element of the museum’s mission is social change, and that the museum will address difficult issues such as coerced adoption and the roles race and money play in the adoption system.

“We as human beings created this practice of adoption, and the way it’s practiced in the United States is a particular kind of practice,” says Callen. “We decided how that was going to work, we created the laws and policy and I think we have a responsibility to understand it so we can look at it and say, ‘This part of it really works and this part over here is really a problem, let’s fix it.’”

The Adoption Museum does not have a physical presence yet. And while Callen says it is important to have one at some point, right now the project is taking advantage of the shifting definition of what a museum is and producing pop-up events. A dream project would encompass a diverse offering including archives, historical and personal artifacts, performance and partnerships.

Many of the 18 objects, which included a birth mother’s journal for her daughter, could be touched. (Photo: Indira Urrutia and Marc Hors. Courtesy the Adoption Museum Project.)

In 2013 the museum put on an event called “Our Place At the Table: Honoring Birth Mother Stories”.  Eighteen women whose children had been adopted shared their stories through personal artifacts, such as a journal and a hospital bracelet.  A one-night event, about 180 people visited the exhibit in three hours.  Next, the museum partnered with the Presidio Trust, a San Francisco-based federal agency, to co-curate an exhibit on Operation Babylift.  The exhibit, which opened in April and runs through December, includes artifacts, photographs, oral histories and a roster of speakers.  The museum’s on-going multimedia efforts include mapping adoption and a children’s book project.

“I think there’s a way that adoption seems to sit below our consciousness,” says Callen. “But in fact it really is quite a pervasive experience.”



Why NASA called the Northwest Indian College Space Center

Hey everyone! The new HP computer arrived and seems to be working – though I don’t have some of my old files… Here is a great post I had to share…Lara/Trace (big sigh of relief)(who knew it could such a pain in the arse to use a brand new computing system with Windows 8)

Christian Cultee, a student at the Northwest Indian College, with a rocket that broke the sound barrier. It started out as a joke.

The students at Northwest Indian College on the Lummi Reservation near Bellingham were launching little rockets made from recycled water bottles as a way to do some hands-on science.

Computer science teacher Gary Brandt says calling it a “space center” was just something one of the students came up with.

“And he said, ‘I called us the Northwest Indian College Space Center,’” Brandt said. “I was kind of dumbfounded, basically. And I said, ‘OK, let’s do that. That’s kind of grandiose. Let’s really play it up.’”

The joke was funny because this was just a tiny, two-year college, with no engineering program. Getting into space was the last thing on the minds of these students; they were just trying to escape poverty. Next thing they knew, NASA was calling them up.

via Why NASA Called The Northwest Indian College Space Center | KUOW News and Information.

The BeZine, June 2015, Vol. 1, Issue 8 – Table of Contents with Links

The BeZine, June 2015, Vol. 1, Issue 8 – Table of Contents with Links.

I have computer issues so sharing this post will serve as my post for the coming week… AH, who knew that a machine could cause such irritation?

Thanks to Michael Watson for introducing me to this new BeZine. I can’t wait to read every issue.

And thanks to all my readers and for those who comment and like and share. YOU make me very happy!


Thoughts on a very big mystery and my latest adoption miracle

my friend Rae is in the book MISSISSIPIANS

my friend Rae is in the book MISSISSIPIANS because she’s a famous opera singer

By Lara Trace

In mid-April my husband and I took a road-trip to visit our friends from Austria who also keep a family home in Gulfport, Mississippi.

My friend/sister/relative Dr. Raeschelle Potter-Deimel (left) is originally from Gulfport and at one time worked as an opera singer at the Met in New York City and on many stages in Europe and Austria.  After opera, Rae became a renowned doctor of anthropology in Vienna!  (She has American Indian and African American ancestry.)

Rae and I met in person at the American Indian Workshop (AIW) in Munich in 2005 but we’d actually met earlier via phone and email when I was editor of the Pequot Times in Connecticut.  Rae had told me about the AIW and put me in touch with them.  So my academic paper Power Politics and the Pequot: America’s Richest Indians was my first paper at AIW; then it was published in Poland, Italy and Germany. Many European historians were curious about the modern-day Mashantucket Pequot, including my friend Rae …luckily I had spent 5 years editing their tribal newspaper and their annual reports (1999-2004).  With so little known or written about this hugely successful tribe, I offered a more modern view of their activity and successes. I was interviewed by the BBC and a German TV station so my Pequot paper was NEWS! (Of course I was very pleased they liked my presentation… I am now an official member of the AIW and invited to give a paper every year…) Later Rae and I wrote a paper together on the adoption projects and we continue to talk on the phone and make every effort to see each other when they come to the US.

Dr. Rae, the anthropologist, lectures about Native American history in Europe and writes and gives papers regularly. What I never realized until I met her:  in Europe they teach a true version of Native and American history, with all it’s complications, gore and tragedy. Europeans actually know more than Americans know about American Indian history… Rae, in particular, is aware of the discrepancies and revisions in American history textbooks that purposefully glorify the invader-conqueror-colonizer and portray American Indians as vanquished, disappeared, drunk and/or dead.

Currently Rae is drafting a book on Texas Lumbee history and even though I retired from my publisher duties at Blue Hand Books in January this year, I do plan to help her get this remarkable book published in the near future. This trip we met to talk about the Lumbee book and just smooze like sisters do…


my memoir

I’ve now been to Gulfport twice, my only trips to the Gulf Coast, and both times I remembered a story my birthfather Earl Bland had told me. I was sitting at his kitchen table in Pana, Illinois when I was 38 (in 1994), meeting my dad for the very first time. He was standing up and calmly said, “You have a brother in New Orleans and I think he’s an attorney.” I NEVER forgot this!  (Did I ask questions? No. I was in a state of shock just being in reunion.)

From Gulfport, it is an easy drive to New Orleans. My husband and I had lunch in the French Quarter our last trip.  Again Earl’s words haunted me… I have a brother in Louisiana.  But how could I ever solve this mystery or find this missing brother? I didn’t know his name! Earl died in 1996 and he never elaborated on his story.

I could have a brother (?) or I did have a brother. I wasn’t sure.  Teresa and I were close; she was my half-sister (same dad) and she never mentioned this in the 20 years we’d been in reunion!  I wasn’t even sure if Earl had met this son. Yet somehow Earl believed he was an attorney?  (Earl raised 5 kids who are my half-siblings. I’ve met them and we all thought I was the only one given up for adoption.)

When Herb and I got back from our roadtrip, we headed to Philadelphia for a funeral. My husband’s cousin Gwenny had died. The night before her funeral, sitting in our hotel, we watched on TV how two sisters who were separated by adoption met in a writing class at the same college in New York City. This was my first time seeing them reunited on TV.  More than one person had told me about this miracle!

(READ: Two Sisters United After Decades when They Take the Same Class: http://www.smartmomstyle.com/two-sisters-united-after-decades-when-they-take-the-same-class/#sthash.EwzQzD1l.dpuf)

That same Sunday night I got an email.

Because I wrote my memoir One Small Sacrifice and mentioned my first father is Earl Bland and his name had made its way onto the internet and onto Ancestry.com, my mystery brother found ME

YES!! Ronnie and his wife had wanted to find Earl Bland for many years. They asked their daughter in Texas to help search. Their daughter is named Tracy. My brother Ronnie chose her name — yup, my adopted name! It was Tracy who found my memoir and emailed ME!

my brother RONNIE!

my brother RONNIE!

Ronnie did live in New Orleans but he wasn’t an attorney. He had served in the Navy (same as our dad Earl) and worked many years in law enforcement and is retired. Ronnie was adopted by a relative (his aunt) and was told the truth when he was 13.  And he carried a small photo of Earl Bland in his wallet. (Ronnie is ten years older than me so our dad Earl was 18 when Ronnie was born.)

When I got home, I could hardly wait to talk to them!  I spoke to my niece Tracy (two hours+) and she has shared all my emails with her dad.  I’ve emailed photos of Earl (and our family) and all the ancestry records I’d scanned.

(Remember we just drove through Alabama to get to and from Gulfport!  REALLY! We had lunch in Mobile, Alabama where my brother Ronnie had lived and worked many years!)

Ronnie emailed me a few days ago. He lives in northern Alabama and wants to know how soon can I come visit.

Manitoba to apologize to aboriginals adopted into white families in ’60s Scoop

Manitoba to apologize to aboriginals adopted into white families in '60s Scoop

Manitoba is set to apologize to aboriginals who were taken from their parents decades ago and adopted into non-aboriginal families. Premier Greg Selinger said the apology, expected next week in the legislature, will acknowledge damage done to those taken from their homes and their culture. Manitoba was one of the provinces most affected, so it is appropriate that it be among the first to apologize, he said.

CLICK: Manitoba to apologize to aboriginals adopted into white families in ’60s Scoop.

WINNIPEG – Manitoba is set to apologize to aboriginals who were taken from their parents decades ago and adopted into non-aboriginal families.

The apology, thought to be the first by a Canadian province, is directed at individuals (adoptees) from the so-called ’60s Scoop, which many see as an extension of Indian residential schools policy.

Premier Greg Selinger said the apology, expected next week in the legislature, will acknowledge damage done to those taken from their homes and their culture. Manitoba was one of the provinces most affected, so it is appropriate that it be among the first to apologize, he said.

“It’s an acknowledgment that they did lose contact with their families, their language, their culture,” Selinger told The Canadian Press. “That was an important loss in their life and it needs to be acknowledged. It’s part of the healing process.”

Adoptees have been calling for a federal apology and many want compensation for their experience, which they say was as traumatic as that suffered by residential school survivors.

Selinger said he hopes the apology prompts the federal government to say it’s sorry.

“These policies were initiated at the federal level all across the country. We’re acknowledging the harms done in Manitoba and the need for healing in Manitoba. We’d like to see the federal government address it on a pan-Canadian level as well.”

[More at American Indian Adoptees blog here: www.splitfeathers.blogspot.com]


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