On September 12, 2008, the conductor of a Metrolink train was distracted while texting on his phone, ran through a red signal in the LA suburb of Chatsworth, California, and sent his commuter train into a head-on colission with a Union Pacific freight train. His locomotive telescoped into the first passenger car and set both on fire. 25 people died, 46 were critically injured, and 85 were transported to the hospital for treatment. Understandably, someone in the Senate yelled out “there oughta be a law!”- the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was passed a few days later.
The bill’s most expensive provision bill was a requirement that Class 1 railroads install Positive Train Control, an anti-collision technology that uses cellular phone technology and GPS. The PTC program nearly derailed in May 2013 when the FCC realized the railroads were installing new poles without licenses. Adding to the project’s complexity, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that Indian bands have the right to inspect proposed sites. The process could have added years to the project.
In October 2013 Bloomberg reported that Railroads and Indians Are Steamed at the FCC, but they shouldn’t have been, the real culprit was the 110th US Congress- their train safety bill conflicted was passed so hastily they neglected to realize it conflicted with another act of Congress. The Obama government was stuck between a rock and a locomotive. So, what to do? Simple! Admit that the FCC runs too slowly, create a $10 million slush fund, hook-up with billionaire-backed New Age NGOs, and dish out the money to the people who are supposed to be leading historic preservation efforts.
Setting Up The $10 Million Payoff:
The first step gives some insight into the lack of efficiency at the Federal Communication Commission. It would have been impossible to complete the federal agency’s approvals process before the December 31, 2015 date required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act. Their solution was to forgive the railroads for illegally installed radio towers, automatically award permits, and streamline the process for the remaining towers. It’s amazing what the FCC can accomplish if they put their mind to it.
Next the FCC engaged with the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. NATHPO was created in 1998, their purpose was to be a “non-profit membership organization of Tribal government officials who implement federal and tribal preservation laws.” Many of the 11,000 illegally installed radio towers were on Indian land. There’s no evidence any site surveys had been conducted for the new poles, but NATHPO worked with the FCC, who worked with the train companies, and came to an agreement on how to solve the problem.
Their answer was to create a $10 million Cultural Resource Fund “to support preservations efforts”. Handing out money can be hard work – not exactly what the FCC and NATHPO were created for – so the project needed some professional assistance. They went to the experts at the TIDES Center in San Francisco who agreed to process the fund into grants targeted towards the people whose job it was to confirm construction wasn’t happening (or hadn’t occurred) on sacred native land.
TIDES ran the project through an entity they call The MICA Group. MICA assigned three staff members as Cultural Resource Fund Liaisons, their job is to interface between Indian nations and help them apply for grants. MICA was founded “by a multicultural group of forward-thinking professionals who recognized the need for a trusted intermediary to bring indigenous and underserved groups together with funders who could help them achieve community goals.”
MICA’s co-founders are an influential lot. Wilma Mankiller (who recently passed-away) was the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation and an active member of the Democratic Party who claimed that her activist career was inspired at the moment that members of the American Indian Movement took over San Francisco’s Alcatraz Jail in 1969. Co-Founder Jacqueline Knox Brown was Assistant Secretary of Energy under the George HW Bush administration. Veronica Gonzales is the Cabinet Secretary for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, and Rosana Rodriguez was a former project manager for the Kellogg Foundation, one of the MICA Group’s sponsors.
The money has been used for what appears to be a lot of pet projects; like field surveys to locate Bison Kill sites for the Blackfoot Nation, “Elder Heritage Days” for the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, and building a database for site preservation for the Cherokee Nation. But not all of the money went to Indian nations.
The Department of Arkansas Heritage got a grant for “Documentation of Historic African American Neighbourhood” and “An Examination of Historic African American Neighborhoods”. The Florida Department of State got a grant for “Raising Public Awareness of Florida’s Cultural and Heritage Resources.” The Massachusetts Historical Commission got money for a “Statewide Cultural Resources Survey Needs Assessment and Plan”.
Setting Up A Reunion At Wounded Knee
Today marks the 125th anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, a tragic event where the US 7th Calvary opened fire on a group of American Indians at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. 200-300 Indians were killed including women and children, 39 were injured. Wounded Knee has become a global symbol for colonialism’s devastating impact on indigenous Americans.
As part of the commemorations; the MICA Group has partnered with the American Institute, the Inspiration Community of Baltimore, and the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers to help bring Lakota descendants and “Elder Wisdom Keepers” to the site of where Wounded Knee victims were buried in a mass grave. The event will include horse riders who’ll be finishing the 200 mile Chief Big Foot Memorial Ride from the Standing Rock Reservation.
The American Indian Institute has set up a crowdfunding webpage on Indigogo with the goal of raising $12,000, so far they’ve only raised $8,429. The page identifies the AII as a “fiscal sponsor” for the event, “in partnership” with the railroad funded MICA and two other sponsors. It also identifies AII as a “501(c)(3) private nonprofit organization, which can provide tax receipts for donations.
When the damage was over at Wounded Knee, and the bodies were buried in their mass grave, the US came up with a cunning plan to keep the “bad Indians” under control. Buffalo Bill was given permission by the government to hire Sitting Bull and a number of the “ghost dancers” whose movement helped to spark Wounded Knee, and took them on tour- far away from South Dakota. The event’s sponsorship list gives an interesting insight into the New Age Buffalo Bills and eccentric billionaires who are enabling what appears to be a similar effort.
American Indian Institute (Feat. Ann Rockefeller Roberts, Mary Jaye & Ted Turner)
The American Indian Insitute is a Bozeman, Montana-based NGO whose mission is “to perpetuate the ancient wisdom and cultural heritage of North America’s Native peoples, and to promote a greater understanding of that wisdom among all peoples.” AII Pursues this goal by “serving as the administrative agency and support source” for “grassroots spiritual leaders” from across North America.
AII was founded 40 years ago by Robert Staffanson, a white guy who claims to have been inspired after spending several summers in Alberta with Piegan Blackfoot friends Norah and Wille Spanish. In his earlier years Staffanson was the founder of the Billings Symphony and once the conductor of the Springfield Symphony in Massachusetts. Staffanson directly managed AII from its foundation but recently handed over the reigns to another white guy named Eric Noyes.
Noyes was hired into the AII from his previous position at the Bozeman-based Political Economy Research Center (now known as the Property and Environment Research Center), an eco-capitalist NGO that takes “an approach to environmental problems that focuses on improving environmental quality using property rights and markets.” SourceWatch reports that PERC has received funding through conservative-leaning donors including the Koch, Earheart, and Castle Rock Foundations.
An article in Colgate University’s alumni magazine explains how Noye believes he’s following his calling “to help American Indians preserve their traditions and spread their message.” He goes on to explain how the Elders who participate in AII events “are on a spiritual level all the time” and how he’s raising his family in the same way. Noye also made a statement about how business is run at the AII- trigger warning, it might make some of their indigenous participants uncomfortable:
“As a non-Indian, I fundraise and I help run the council, but I don’t go to the fire, and they respectfully keep their distance from my file cabinets“
Why all the secrecy? The answer might come from the impressive list of donors, supporters, and board members the AII has worked with over the years. This should come with another trigger warning – many of AII’s spiritual Elders have put a lot of focus in anti-pipeline and climate change issues- it’s likely some might be shocked by the backgrounds of their powerful sponsors:
- Ann Rockefeller Roberts is the daughter of Nelson Rockefeller, the Republican Vice President under Gerald Ford. Roberts is the heiress to John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil fortune, a real-life member of the 1%. Roberts is on the AII’s Advisory Council, has worked with and donated to the NGO for many years- including a major donation towards their new building.
- Meri Jaye is a San Francisco based philanthropist whose career is listed as a naval architect. Jaye’s company Meri Jaye & Associates worked closely with American President Lines and helped build a sculpture celebrating the founding of the United Nations that was APL’s president Ralph K Davies- a former Standard Oil Vice President who worked with the State Department during WWII where he was credited with the idea of the US establishing control over foreign oil reserves. Jaye lives in a beautiful house on San Francisco’s infamous winding Lombard Street and has so much money to throw around she once donated a Degas to a Montana museum. Curiously, she’s also been a donor to the Buffalo Bill center.
- Ted Turner is the founder of CNN, Turner Classic Movies, and a number of other channels in his cable TV empire. He’s also a major Montana landowner where he’s trying to re-introduce wild buffalo. Turner has donated to the AII over several years, he’s also donated use of his Flying D Ranch for the AII’s 25th-anniversary celebration.
- Gail C. McDonald is listed as the AII’s Vice-Chair. McDonald has a long history as a civil servant; Bill Clinton hired her as the first female leader of the St Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, she was the last leader of the Interstate Commerce Commission, was a consultant to the Federal Railroad Administration, and former Chairman of the Maryland Public Service Committee. McDonald also has interesting connections to lobbying groups including the Gas Research Institute, and the Global Climate Coalition- an organization Greenpeace labeled as “the leading industry group working in opposition the Kyoto Protocol”.
- Roger Milliken sits on AII’s Advisory Council. He’s the Chairman of the board of the Nature Conservancy, an ENGO whose board of directors he’s sat on since 2000. His family fortune was earned through Milliken & Co, once the largest privately held textile company in the US. Milliken is president of the Baskahegan Company “which owns and manages 100,000 acres of forestland in eastern Maine and is “is a recognized leader in Maine’s forest products industry, known for its commitment to managing for timber while respecting the dynamics of natural systems.”
- Steve Browning is the Chair of the AII’s board of trustees. He was Chief of Staff for Senator Max Baucus from 1975-1978, prior to that he worked as Staff Council to the US Senate Budget Committee in 1975. Browning is a philanthropist and one of the founders of the Montana Community Foundation- a fund that’s managed financial transactions and an endowment for the AII.
- Tim Babcock is a former Republican governor of Montana who recently passed away in April, 2015, he was on AII’s board of trustees. In his previous life Babcock worked for Vladimir Lenin’s close friend Armand Hammer, as VP at a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum. Babcock was a prominent supporter of the Republican Party and was convicted in 1974 after concealing the source of a donation to Richard Nixon’s campaign- Nixon appointed him to the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere. He was finance co-chair for Montanans for Mitt Romney.
- Lawrence W Barker is a former member of the AII’s board of trustees. Barker was an oilman who studied geology and petroleum engineering at UCLA, he later went on to found the Independent Indonesian American Petroleum Company (IIAPCO) and was on the board of the Langley, BC Canada based Continental Energy Corporation.
- Lisa Smith is on AII’s board of trustees. She’s a “Montana rancher’s daughter” who’s lived in Florida, San Diego, and Northern British Columbia- she and her husband now live near Lincoln, Montana. Smith is the founder of Pull Together Now, an NGO whose goal is “to catalyze the well-being of all Peoples through transboundary collaboration”. PTN works as a feeder organization for a Saudi-funded religious gathering called the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
The AII has worked closely with both PTN and the World Parliament of Religions and helped to send several of their American Indian participants to participate in their events. Which leads us to some of the institute’s indigenous participants:
- Wilma Mankiller of MICA Group has participated in their spiritual events.
- Joe Medicine Crow is the last remaining War Chief of the Crow Nation, and the founding member of the AII’s Traditional Circle of Indian Elders & Youth. Crow bravely fought against the Germans in WWII, was nominated by Max Baucus for the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008 (but didn’t get enough votes in Congress), and was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2009. Ken Burns covered his story in the PBS series The War.
- Jens Lyberth is Greenlander of the Bahá’í faith who also goes by the name Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq or Angaangaq Lyberth. Lyberth promotes himself as a “shaman, healer, storyteller and carrier of the Qilaut (winddrum), is an Eskimo-Kalaallit Elder whose family belongs to the traditional healers of the Far North from Kalaallit Nunaat, Greenland.” Unlike traditional indigenous healers he sells his services, including expensive sweat lodge experiences that cost 100’s of Dollars or Euros. He’s participated and been featured at AII events.
- Oren Lyons is another long-term and high-profile AII participant. Lyons joined the Red Power movement during the 1960’s and is a prominent climate & anti-pipeline activist who participated in COP21 and numerous other UN-sponsored events. Lyons’ biography lists him as a “Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.” Lyons was a well-known lacrosse player in his youth, and is now connected to the Iroquois Nationals- a team that runs their money through AII’s charitable non-profit. Lyons was a speaker at the Saudi-funded Parliament of the World’s Religions, and is knee-deep in the ENGO industrial complex. He’s on the board of the Seventh Generation fund – an indigenous based NGO that’s received money from major foundations including Ford & TIDES and has donated to the AII. He’s a participant in the TIDES aligned Social Venture Network, has been a speaker at the TIDES aligned Bioneers, and is linked with the American Indian Law Alliance.
Speaking about the ENGO Industrial complex, the institute has received significant funding and support from a number of foundations and NGOs:
- Rockefeller Philanthropy Partners, the Ford Foundation, TIDES, the Cristensen Fund, and the Turner Foundation are listed as a funding sources on the AII’s Annual Reports
- The New Age Kalliopeia Foundation is a donor
- The Pew Charitable Trust has donated a small amount
- The Fund for the Four Directions, a private charity created by Ann RockeFeller Roberts has donated
- AII is a beneficiary of the Onaway Trust
- Their endowment of approximately $900,000 is managed through the Montana Community Foundation
Inspiration Community of Baltimore
The Inspiration Community is a New Age “school and non-profit community and service organization that is dedicated to serving personal, relational and planetary wellness.” Their founder Jessica Dibb “has been the Founder, Spiritual Director, and Principal Teacher of Inspiration Consciousness School, and has designed and facilitated unique workshops, classes, and on-going trainings grounded in a highly integrated model of psycho-spiritual healing and development to support self-actualization.”
IC board member and VP Peggy Mainor is the Executive Director of the TIDES run Mica group. Her LinkedIn page curiously neglects to mention her connection with the IC.
Int Council Of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers (Feat Marion Rockefeller Weber)
The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers is an “alliance of indigenous female elders” whose 13 members come from primarily from the US; with others from Mexico, Nepal, Brazil, Tibet and Gabon. The group focuses on environmental issues like climate change, indigenous rights, and “internationalism”.
The group moves its donations through an American NGO called the Flow Fund Circle. FFC was started by Marion Rockefeller Weber, a fourth-generation heir to John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil fortune, and daughter of Frederic Billings- the founder of the Northern Pacific Railway (now part of Burlington Northern). Other funding has come from the New Age Kalliopeia Foundation, and over $400,000 came in from another New Age NGO called the Center for Sacred Studies (a group that holds the domain name for the Grandmother’s website).
The Grandmothers have run expensive courses for the SHIFT Network, a New Age group led by former Democratic Party Vice Presidential nominee and plastic toy heiress Barbara Marx-Hubbard (whose daughter Alexandra Morton is appropriating indigenous community’s voices in British Columbia at Astroturf salmon farming protests). Peggy Mainor of the MICA Group and Inspiration Community also teaches courses for SHIFT.
Rockefeller Déjà vu?
There are a lot of interesting coincidences in this story, beginning with the startling number of Rockefellers and Rockefeller run foundations. The Rockefellers have been involved with issues related to indigenous North Americans for over a century now, the story behind their backing of American Indian Institute is strikingly similar to another Rockefeller initiative in the early 1900’s.
G.E.E. Lindquist was a Protestant missionary from a Swedish family who was known for his work with American Indians. Between 1915-1917 he served as the principal for a privately owned Wichita, Kansas prep school for Native Americans that was also named the American Indian Institute (no connection). Between 1918-1922 he served as the Director of the American Indian Survey, a project that started under the Interchurch World Movement and was later transferred to the John D Rockefeller funded Institute for Social and Religious Research.
Lindquist’s archives are housed at Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary, a John D Rockefeller school that’s received continued from the Rockefeller family. The archive’s web page explains that – while Lindquist’s job description was that of a preacher and evangelist – his primary role was networking, institution building, and gathering census data.
The archive’s web page also gives a sharp warning about what Lindquist’s actual intentions were in documenting and photographing his subjects. He used before & after series of photographs of Indian’s residences to demonstrate the effectiveness of his assimilation efforts, pictures of churches were used to show similar progress, photos of destitute and traditional people’s housing were used help raise more funds for his efforts.
There’s no evidence whether Rockefeller knew or was ignorant of the fact he was funding a man whose primary task was to tame and “civilize” American Indians, but either option looks pretty bad. Rockefeller’s oil business relied on the building of railways and pipelines, it was to his benefit to keep “the natives” under control. In the less likely case (he funded Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele) that Rockefeller was unknowingly funding Lindquist’s goals, it goes to show that it’s not a good idea to trust that billionaire philanthropists are competent enough to be trusted.
Who Might Be Benefitting From These NGOs Today?
This leads us to the question of who could be the beneficiaries of activities led by Rockefeller supported groups like the American Indian Institute and the International Council Of The Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. There are a number of interesting possibilities:
- The US Senate and Barack Obama have been spared the political damage of Indian nations taking action to further delay the implementation of Positive Train Control. Many people have been injured or died since the bill was passed, more might in the future. Obama’s legacy might have been tarnished if indigenous protesters started blocking train lines and radio tower construction.
- There’s been a lot of speculation why so few of the people and organizations protesting pipelines have put effort into protesting trains (which, to date, most don’t even have collision avoidance systems). Take the AII’s Oren Lyons for example, he’s been a vocal opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, and now he’s working with the train companies- could there be some sort of connection?
- The King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz’s Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue is no doubt thrilled watching Lyons, other indigenous protesters, and various New Age Earth cults say bad things about oilsands and pipelines at the Parliament of the World’s religions. Canadian oil is unwanted competition, potentially taking money out of Saudi pockets.
- The New Age gurus circling around Rockefeller funded indigenous groups are likely to find it beneficial to have “genuine Indians” in their presence, it gives them more credibility selling their services to rich New Age eccentrics.
Then again it might be that the Saudi royals, billionaires, railroad magnates, and New Age gurus are actually in the game out of genuine compassion and are entirely motivated by good intentions. Stranger things have happened, but we’ve also learned that their good intentions might not actually be what’s best for the people whose voices they’ve been harnessing.
Perhaps they’re funding the next Mengele and they don’t even know it?
Some Closing Thoughts
My research for this story was initially intended to map out indigenous participants of this year’s COP21 meeting in Paris, and their connections to the billionaire NGO industrial complex. I’ve mapped out a highly detailed and complex relationship chart on this page, an abridged version more specific to this story is above (click for larger version here). Stay tuned for more stories related to this research in the future, you’ll be shocked to learn how deeply entrenched the same small group of billionaires and NGOs are with the “indigenous” representation at the United Nations.