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Slaughter of the Osage, Betrayal of the Sioux

Mother Jones

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Jason Holley

One cold November day last year, Chris Turley, a 28-year-old member of the Osage Nation, set out from the tribe’s northeast Oklahoma reservation upon a quest. He had a wool hat pulled down over his crisply cut black hair and wore military fatigues, just as he had done when he served in Afghanistan as a Scout in the US Army. He carried a rucksack filled with MREs—Meals, Ready-to-Eat—and bottled water, a tent, and a sleeping bag. Tucked away was also an emergency medical kit.

Departing on foot, he headed north through the tall prairie grass. He went past scattering herds of cattle and grinding oil pumps. Thirty miles later, around midnight, he stopped near the Kansas border and made camp in the darkness. He slept in his tent, curled in the cold. In the abruptness of dawn he woke, poured water into a container with premade eggs and quickly ate, and then set out again. The rucksack weighed 80 pounds and his right leg especially burned. In Afghanistan, shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade had shivved through his knee. (He received a Purple Heart and a Commendation with Valor, which said his “actions under intense enemy fire when wounded, and courage when facing the enemy in close proximity, not only eliminated and disrupted the enemy but saved the lives of his fellow Scouts.”) Doctors had predicted he’d never walk again without help, but after months of rehabilitation, he did.

Now he marched forward, day after day. He entered Kansas, passing through Greenwood County and Brown County—where members of the Kickapoo Tribe invited him to attend a round dance—and continued into Nebraska, until, after hiking for nearly three weeks, he hitched a ride to his final destination: the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. There, on the North Dakota plains, he joined forces with the Sioux who’d been protesting the proposed construction of an oil pipeline near the border of their reservation, fearing it would destroy their sacred burial sites and contaminate their water supply. “Anyone who knows me knows I am a warrior of this country, I love it with all my heart,” Turley wrote on his Facebook page. “I am also a Native of this country and I’m showing my support for Standing Rock.”

For Turley and many other Osage, the fight had a deep resonance, evoking memories of the tribe’s own struggle over oil and land rights during the early 20th century—a struggle that culminated in one of the most sinister crimes in American history. In 2012, when I first visited the Osage Nation Museum, its then-director, Kathryn Red Corn, told me about this mysterious and deadly plot. I was shocked that I had never learned about it in school or read about it in books, and over the next several years I began to try to uncover the depths of the wrongdoing.

Turley told me that when he was young he had heard about the killings from elder members of the tribe. “Every Osage knows about the murders,” he said. He learned that the Osage once laid claim to much of the Midwest (Thomas Jefferson described them as a “great nation”), but like so many American Indians, they were gradually forced off their ancestral lands. They were driven into Kansas in 1825 and were relocated during the 1870s to the reservation in northeast Oklahoma. By then, their population had dwindled to a few thousand because of massacres and disease and starvation. Although the new reservation was bigger than the state of Delaware, the land was rocky and presumed worthless.

Several years later, an Osage Indian pointed out to a white trader a rainbow sheen on the surface of a creek. It was oil. The reservation, it turned out, was sitting above some of the largest deposits of petroleum then known in America, and to extract that oil, prospectors had to pay the Osage for leases and royalties. In 1906, the tribe granted each of its 2,000 or so registered members a headright, essentially a share in the mineral trust. In 1923 alone, the tribe collected what would today amount to more than $400 million—the New York Times deemed them the wealthiest people per capita in the world. Belying long-standing stereotypes, they lived in mansions and had white servants and rode in chauffeured cars. “Lo and behold!” exclaimed the Outlook, a New York City magazine. “The Indian, instead of starving to death…enjoys a steady income that turns bankers green with envy.”

Then, one by one, the Osage with headrights began to be murdered off. During what became known as the Osage Reign of Terror, there were poisonings, shootings, and even a bombing. Several of those who tried to catch the killers were themselves killed, including one attorney who was thrown from a speeding train. As the death toll reached more than two dozen, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation—later renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation—took up the case. It became one of the FBI’s first major homicide investigations. But for two years, the bureau bungled the case, failing to make any arrests.

Fearing a scandal, the bureau’s new director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to an old frontier lawman named Tom White, who assembled a team of undercover operatives, including an American Indian agent. In 1926, they captured one of the criminal masterminds—a prominent white settler who had orchestrated an intricate plot to steal the Osage’s headrights and fortune. But, as I discovered from my research, the extent of the killings was far greater than the bureau ever exposed, and there were scores, perhaps hundreds, of murders that went unsolved. The perpetrators absconded with much of the Osage’s fortune, which was further diminished by the Great Depression and the depletion of oil reserves.

Turley thought about the Osage murders during the demonstrations at Standing Rock. The Sioux weren’t looking to make money; they were just trying to protect the environment. And yet the struggles came down to the same fundamental issue: the right of American Indians to control their lands and resources. Which is why the Standing Rock demonstrations seemed to galvanize so many nations of American Indians, each with its own bloodstained history, its own saga of incursions upon its sovereignty. Native Americans made pilgrimages to Standing Rock from across the country—from the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California and the Blackfeet Nation in Montana to the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska and the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico. Jim Gray, a former Osage chief, wrote on Facebook, “The principle of any tribe’s sovereign right to protect what’s important to them is why hundreds of tribes have sent food, supplies and money to their aid.”

Turley helped provide security for the protesters—or “water protectors”—including by guarding convoys headed off the reservation to resupply them. “It was kind of like a covert op,” he said. When the word came down, on December 4, that the Department of the Army had refused to allow the oil company to build the pipeline, “we all sang and danced,” Turley recalled.

Yet President Donald Trump—who until recently had an investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline—reversed the decision upon taking office. The Sioux are contesting Trump’s action in court, but their legal options are quickly dwindling, and it may become harder for demonstrators to gather in the future: A state legislator introduced a bill making it legal for a person to “unintentionally” run over protesters.

Many American Indian leaders fear that the pipeline is only the beginning of the Trump administration’s attempt to erode tribal sovereignty. Reuters reported that some of the president’s advisers even hope to “privatize” American Indian reservations, fulfilling the old dream of white settlers to open these lands to unfettered development.

Jim Gray says the Trump administration will confront an American Indian movement galvanized and united by Standing Rock. “In the old days, our people didn’t have much of a voice,” he told a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last fall. “Now we do…The world is watching.” As for Chris Turley, he’s back at his home in Osage territory. But if summoned by the leaders of any tribe in need, he says he’s prepared to pack up his rucksack: “I can walk across America.”

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Slaughter of the Osage, Betrayal of the Sioux

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The Instant Pot Is a Phenomenon—and Indian Cooks Are Using It in the Most Creative Ways

Mother Jones

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Perhaps you’ve heard by now about the Instant Pot, a slow cooker, rice cooker, food warmer, pressure cooker, sauté pan, and yogurt maker all rolled into one slightly unwieldy programmable metal contraption. Over the last few months, this kitchen gadget has garnered a lot of attention. It’s a bestseller on Amazon. The New York Times took it for a spin, as did NPR’s The Salt. Bon Appétit claimed it “will change your life.”

But there’s one group that applies exceptional creativity to the Instant Pot: people who cook Indian food. On a private Facebook group called Instant Pot for Indian Cooking, home chefs adapt traditional dishes—dals, biryanis, curries, and more—and post the photos and recipes to 70,000 members. They also poll each other for advice—questions like “How much paneer do you get from a gallon of whole milk” in the Instant Pot? and “Has anyone used packaged fried onion from the store for Instant Pot biryani?”

These folks are devoted to their Instant Pots. Many members boast that they’ve thrown away their traditional Indian pressure cookers. Someone recently posted a photo of her Instant Pot overlooking a scenic mountain vista. Yes, the Instant Pot went camping.

So what makes the Instant Pot so good for Indian cuisine? On the last episode of Bite, our food politics podcast, I had a quick lesson with Pooja Verma, who cooks a lot of Indian food for her family in Fremont, California. (The segment starts at 02:28)

Pooja told me she now does an impressive 80 percent of her cooking in the Instant Pot. One reason she likes it, she says, is that it’s great for recipes that usually only work in India’s hot climate. Take idlis—dumplings made from fermented rice and lentil flour. The key to making great idlis, Pooja explained, is that the batter must ferment without the addition of yeast. “So some smart people have figured out that the yogurt function in the Instant Pot emanates just the right amount of heat to get the batter fermented overnight.” For more Instant Pot cooking tips from Pooja, listen to our latest episode of Bite.

Bite is Mother Jones‘ food politics podcast. Listen to all our episodes here, or by subscribing in iTunes or Stitcher or via RSS.

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The Instant Pot Is a Phenomenon—and Indian Cooks Are Using It in the Most Creative Ways

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The Washington Post Just Reported the Founder of Blackwater Tried to Set Up Trump-Putin Back-Channel

Mother Jones

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The Washington Post just published a story that, if corroborated, could be a pretty big deal:

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to US, European and Arab officials.

The meeting took place around Jan. 11—nine days before Trump’s inauguration—in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would likely require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.

Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.

In addition to being the founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince is also the brother of Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the Post that the White House had no knowledge of any such meeting and reiterated that Prince was not on the transition team. A Prince spokesman denied the story in a statement to the Post:

“Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication,” said a spokesman for Prince in a statement. “The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”

After the Post published its story, NBC reported that two sources confirmed a meeting occurred but that one of those sources disputed the claim that the meeting was about Russia:

One US intelligence official confirmed the Post’s account to NBC News, saying the meeting was with a Russian envoy. A second source said he believed the meeting was not about Russia. That source, a former intelligence official with close ties to Prince and the UAE, said the subject of the meeting was Middle East policy, to cover Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Read the whole story.

This story has been updated.

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The Washington Post Just Reported the Founder of Blackwater Tried to Set Up Trump-Putin Back-Channel

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Remote Control Hummingbirds!

Mother Jones

It tuns out that one of features of my new camera is the ability to control it remotely with my cell phone. If you have even a gram of nerd blood in you, this should make you insanely jealous.1 It’s the coolest thing ever.

And yet, as cool as it is, it still left me twiddling my neurons trying to figure out what I could do with it. One possibility was situations where I need to minimize camera shake. Put the camera on a tripod and then snap the shutter remotely without actually touching anything. But that would be just another example of using a thousand dollars worth of technology to do what a ten-dollar cable release can do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Then Marian suggested I could set up the camera by our hummingbird feeder and wait for hummingbirds to fly in. So I did. Here’s what the setup looks like:

Then I went into the living room and watched Roger Federer play Stan Wawrinka at Indian Wells. Every time a bird showed up on my camera, I held down the remote shutter button and shot off a few dozen pictures.

Which did me precious little good. Damn, those little buggers are fast. Even with the shutter speed allegedly set at 1/2000th of a second, the pictures were blurry. Also out of focus most of the time, which was a combination of my fault and the camera’s fault. Still, live and learn. Here are the two best shots I got:

The top one is a male Anna’s hummingbird. The bottom one is, I suppose, a female Anna’s hummingbird. The bird folks can enlighten us in comments.

Anyway, I’ll have to try this again. It’s certainly a way of getting some good nature shots without sitting on my hump for hours on end in a muddy patch of dirt. Then again, since the WiFi range for the camera is about ten feet or so, maybe it just means I get a little better selection of where to sit on my hump for hours on end. I’ll have to think of some way to try this with the cats.

1Unless you already have a camera that can do this.

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Remote Control Hummingbirds!

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Big-name Republicans are taking a carbon-tax plan to the White House.

The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to withdraw $3 billion from the bank, in part because it is funding the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the city’s mayor said he would sign the measure.

The vote delivered a win for pipeline foes, albeit on a bleak day for the #NoDAPL movement. Earlier in the day, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will allow construction of the pipeline’s final leg and forgo an environmental impact statement.

Before the vote, many Native speakers took the floor in support of divestment, including members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Tsimshian First Nation, and Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

Seattle will withdraw its $3 billion when the city’s current contract with Wells Fargo expires in 2018. Meanwhile, council members will seek out a more socially responsible bank. Unfortunately, the pickings are somewhat slim, as Bank of America, Chase, CitiBank, ING, and a dozen other banks have all invested in the pipeline.

While $3 billion is just a small sliver of Wells Fargo’s annual deposit collection of $1.3 trillion, the council hopes its vote will send a message to other banks. Activism like this has worked before — in November, Norway’s largest bank sold all of its assets connected to Dakota Access. With any luck, more will follow.

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Big-name Republicans are taking a carbon-tax plan to the White House.

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