Cherokee Teen Will Carry Torch at Special Olympics

Courtesy Amy ByrdSway-Anne Byrd, Cherokee, is a 14-year-old competitor in the Special Olympics.
Courtesy Amy Byrd
Sway-Anne Byrd, Cherokee, is a 14-year-old competitor in the Special Olympics.
Sam Laskaris, Indian Country Today

For the third consecutive year, Sway-Anne Byrd will compete in the Area Special Olympic Games in her hometown. But for the 14-year-old Cherokee girl, who lives in Havre, Montana, this year’s games will have some added significance. That’s because the teenager, who was born with Down syndrome, will carry the torch during the opening ceremonies of the Games, which will be staged on Wednesday.

The opening ceremonies will feature Byrd running a lap of the school’s track with the ceremonial lit torch. Besides carrying the torch, Byrd will also be leading all of the other participants in the games as they too will follow her and run a lap as well. “I’ve only seen adults carry the torch,” Byrd’s mother Amy told ICTMN. “Since she’s only 14, this is pretty cool.”

The coaches of athletes participating in the games as well as some of the volunteers choose one athlete to be the torchbearer at the opening ceremonies. Officials contacted the family a few weeks ago to see if Sway-Anne would be interested in the position. Byrd’s family considers it a huge honor that Sway-Anne was chosen to have a key role in the Games’ opening ceremonies. “It’s like if you were playing football or if you were playing basketball and you win an award,” Amy Byrd said of her daughter’s torchbearer selection. “This is at that level for her.”


Sway-Anne Byrd (Courtesy Amy Byrd)
Sway-Anne Byrd (Courtesy Amy Byrd)


And the excitement is building as the games approach. Byrd’s mother said her daughter was rather elated on Monday night as she practiced for her lap with the torch. “She was jumping up and down,” she said. “She was so excited.”

The Area Special Olympic Games are held each year in Havre. Should they choose to do so, participants can also take part in the annual Montana Special Olympics. At the state level in Montana there are annual summer and winter Special Olympics. “We haven’t gone to the state games as of yet,” Amy said. “She’s very independent, but it’s a very large atmosphere there. I don’t think she’s quite ready for that yet.”

As she did a year ago, Byrd will participate in four track and field events at Wednesday’s games. She will run in the girls’ 50-metre and 100-metre races in her age group. And she will also take part in the standing long jump event and the softball throw (the shot put equivalent for Special Olympians). At the 2014 games, Byrd captured gold medals in her 50-metre race and standing long jump. And she won silver and bronze medals in her 100-metre and softball throw events, respectively.

“She really enjoys it,” said Byrd’s mother.



Descendants of Freedmen sue U.S. government

 BY RYAN ABBOTT,  Courthouse News Service
WASHINGTON – The U.S. government turned its back on the descendants of freed slaves of Native Americans, swindling them out of lucrative land royalties allotted to them as children, a class action claims in federal court.
Leatrice Tanner-Brown and the Harvest Institute Freedman Federation sued Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel and Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, seeking an accounting of revenue from leases on land promised to children of Freedmen, who were liberated by citizens of the so-called “Five Civilized Indian Tribes” or Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole nations.
According to the complaint: “The Five Civilized Tribes allied themselves with the Confederacy during the Civil War and attempted to maintain slaves following the War. As a result of the Tribes’ disloyalty to the United States during the Civil War all territory owned by the Tribes was forfeited. The status of the Tribes was reestablished under treaties entered in 1866.”
Some of the forfeited land was allotted to the freed slaves and their descendants.
The Department of Interior in 1908 agreed to keep track of revenue from leases on land granted to Freedmen minors or their descendants.
“Notwithstanding demand from plaintiffs for an accounting of revenue from leases on restricted lands during the period that these lands were held by Freedmen minors and not subject to alienation, defendants have failed to provide the requested accounting,” the complaint states.
“Under the Act of May 27, 1908, restrictions against alienation of Freedmen allotments … were not removed. Accordingly, any royalties derived from leases on [Freedmen] allotments should have been accounted for by the Department of Interior under the terms of the Sections 2 and 6 of the 1908 Act,” according to the complaint. “These failures were not innocent. They were the result of a deliberate strategy to swindle land and money from Freedmen.”
The claims says many of these allotments were for oil-rich land, and the government allowed grafters and speculators “anxious to obtain oil-rich lands for little or no payment to allottees” to exploit the often unsophisticated and uneducated Freedmen.
According to the complaint, there were 23,405 Freedmen in 1914.
“Defendants breached their duty to avoid conflicts of interests and to monitor Freedmen allotments in favor of alienation of European settlers, Oklahoma statehood, and corporate interests,” the class claims.
They want an accounting of money collected from the allotted lands and declaration of the government’s fiduciary duties.
They are represented by Paul Robinson Jr. of Memphis, Tenn.

Foster child adoption halted over tribal ties



LYNDEN, Wash. — Her photos are still up on the refrigerator door.  Three-year-old “Elle” was Pete and Laura Lupo’s foster child, but she was much more than that to them.

“Every day when I walked through the door she would run to the door and squeeze my leg,” said foster father Pete Lupo.

“She would be just rough and tumble, but then she also like to have her nails painted and she liked pink,” said Laura Lupo, her foster mother.

In December, they say their dream came true. DSHS designated the Lupos to be her adoptive parents. “Elle’s” biological mother lost her parental rights. Her biological father, Scott Vaughn, who was serving time for assault with a deadly weapon, was about to lose his when the Lupos say he enrolled in the Cherokee tribe.

Related: Foster child’s uncle: “We wanted her all along”

It sent into motion a legal nightmare for the family, ending with DSHS removing “Elle” from her home two weeks ago.

“So on June 5, they came and got her. And we haven’t heard anything on how she’s doing,” said Laura Lupo, crying.

DSHS declined to comment stating the confidentiality of child welfare records, but the Lupos’ attorney says the department cited the Indian Child Welfare Act and state law, which says “any adoptive or other permanent placement of an Indian child, preference shall be given to…extended family members” first. A Skagit county court commissioner made the decision final on Tuesday.

“We have offered to enroll her, we have offered to go to Oklahoma, we have offered to meet with tribal members. It didn’t matter, none of it mattered,” said Laura Lupo.

“Elle” was placed with an uncle and aunt who she had met twice as an infant, and had a few arranged visits with in recent months. The Lupos say the heritage that “Elle” should have been taught to honor and cherish was used to rip her from her home and her family.

With tears in his eyes, Pete Lupo remembers saying goodbye to her.

“She gave me a kiss back and she said ‘I love you, Daddy.’ And I had to walk away,” he said.

A KING 5 investigation helped lead to a new state law allowing foster children to have their own attorney to give them a voice over life changing decisions, such as where they will live. The Lupos are hoping that law will help “Elle” get what is best for her. A Facebook page is dedicated to help bring “Elle” home.

5 Native American Communities Who Owned Enslaved Africans


April 9, 2014 | Posted by Barbara-Shae Jackson

The Atlanta Black Star

Stories about Black and Native American connections are rarely told within the narrow historical context shared in classrooms, history books and around family tables, but there are some details that reveal a more complete story of enslavement in the Americas.

In the 1830s, the enslavement of Blacks was established in the Indian Territory, the region that would become Oklahoma. By the late 19th century, when over half a million Africans were enslaved in the South, the southern Native American societies of that region had come to include both enslaved Blacks and small numbers of free Black people.

Though the harsh treatment of enslaved Africans largely paled in comparison to that of white slaveholders,  Blacks still were treated as an underclass among Native Americas. The Five Civilized Tribes even established slave codes that protected owners’ property rights and restricted the rights of Blacks.

Here are the Five Civilized Tribes who held Black people as slaves.



It is no surprise that the Native Americans knew the land well. Their knowledge became a lucrative business, especially for the Chickasaws who had keen navigation skills. They were hired by white slaveholders to traverse the terrain to capture Blacks who had escaped slavery.

The Chickasaw also held enslaved Africans of their own, and the system they established closely approximated that of white slaveholders on cotton plantations.



For rest of list please click here.



Century-old Handwritten Letters Translated from Cherokee for Yale University

Source: Native News Network

TAHLEQUAH, OKLAHOMA – Over 2,000 Century-old journals, political messages and medicinal formulas handwritten in Cherokee and archived at Yale University are being translated for the first time.

Cherokee century-old handwritten letters
Cherokee Their researchers and linguistic specialists have helped adapt 21st century technologies with their traditional culture.
The Cherokee Nation is among a small few, if not the only tribe, that has a language translation department who contracts with Apple, Microsoft, Google and Ivy League universities for Cherokee translation projects.

One of the tribe’s 13 translators, Durbin Feeling, is transcribing some 2,000 documents at Yale’s Beinecke Library, to catalogue and eventually make public.

The documents, spanning from the late 19th to mid-20th century, are from the collection of the late Jack and Anna Kilpatrick, Cherokee researchers.

“Native American communities have endured some of America’s most sustained forms of cultural oppression, and contemporary Indian nations, tribal members and supporters work tirelessly to reverse generations of assimilation-orientated designs. The work of linguists and language speakers in such efforts is particularly essential, especially in keeping alive and vibrant the languages of the first Americans,”

said Ned Blackhawk, Yale professor of history and American studies, and advisory member at Yale’s Native American Cultural Center.

“The Cherokee Nation works at the leading edge of such linguistic activism. Their researchers and linguistic specialists have helped adapt 21st century technologies with their traditional culture and have developed among the most advanced pedagogical practices in the nation,”

Blackhawk said.

The Cherokee Nation translation department is also currently working with museums in Oklahoma and finishing up its largest translation of 500,000 words for Microsoft.

“Our speakers are taking Cherokee history, in the form of our language, and preserving it for our future by incorporating our written alphabet into smart phones and computer language settings, making it possible for our youth to email entirely in Cherokee,”

Principal Chief Bill John Baker said.

“They are one of our most valuable resources, not only passing on their wisdom to our Cherokee Immersion students learning to speak, but for our future who will know more about our lives and way of thinking, revealed in all these translated archived manuscripts.”

Feeling’s first language is Cherokee. He has a master’s degree in linguistics from the University of California, Irvine, and honorary doctorate from Ohio State. He has traveled across the United States and Germany sharing how to speak, read and write the 85 character Cherokee syllabary. He’s also taught Cherokee language and culture at the University of Oklahoma and Northeastern State University.

“Universities and museums often have all these documents and nobody to read them, to tell them what they say,”

Feeling said.

“They’ll choose the ones they’re curious about and let me translate, which benefits us all.”

The Cherokee Nation has a comprehensive language program that includes community language classes, online language courses, employee language classes, a language technology program, an office of translation and an immersion school for preschool through sixth grade and partners with Northeastern State University on a degree program for Cherokee language.

In addition to these initiatives, the Cherokee Nation also shows a strong dedication to language by including protection of language in the Chief’s oath of office, council resolutions supporting language and a quantity of signs on Cherokee Nation property that are written in the Cherokee syllabary.