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An important part of our mission statement at Native News Online is to cover stories that inform, inspire and uplift Indian Country.  

Suffice to say, it’s always tricky to balance the mission to inform — reporting about important issues like Indian boarding schools, the repatriation of ancestors, tribal sovereignty and climate change — with our mission goals to inspire and uplift.

In 2022, we had the privilege of bringing you stories of Native people beating the odds, achieving their dreams and making their communities — and the world — a better place.

From the first Native American woman to launch into space to the emotional win of Prairie Band Potawatomi citizen Stephanie “Pyet” Despain's nationally televised win on Next Level Chef, here are 10 stories from 2022 that inspired us and, we hope, uplifted our readers. 

Astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann Answered Questions from Native Students, Indigenous Media in Live Interview from Space Station

Nicole Aunapu Mann (Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes), the first Indigenous woman to be launched into space, answered questions from Native American media outlets and Indigenous school children in a live-streamed in-flight interview from the International Space Station.

In answering questions solicited from various Native media outlets and tribal schools, Mann spoke of viewing Earth from space, her career path, and drawing strength from the blessings of her family. At one point, she brought out a dream catcher she carries with her and explained its significance as it gently floated around her in zero gravity. 

“I brought a dreamcatcher from my mother that helped me through tough times as a child,” Mann said. “When things are difficult or getting hard, I draw on that strength to continue toward a successful mission.” 

WATCH: Ho-Chunk Artist Talks About Being Named a 2022 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow

Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk Nation) was named a 2022 MacArthur 'Genius' Fellow on Wednesday, Oct. 12. Hopinka is a filmmaker, photographer, and poet whose work centers around personal positions of Indigenous homeland and landscape. News of his award—which comes with a no-strings $80,000 grant–broke while he was attending the Association on American Indian Affairs annual repatriation conference. 

"I've heard there's a genius among us," Shannon O'Loughlin, chief executive of AAIA proclaimed, ushering Hopinka to the front of a 200-person room to congratulate him. 

Our reporter Jenna Kunze was at the conference and interviewed Hopinka shortly after he got the good news. 

Native American Pro Soccer Player Excited to Be the First, But Not Last

Being the first and only Native American in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) excites Madison Hammond, but there’s something even more compelling to her. 

“I’m really excited to be the first Native American to play in the NWSL,” Hammond said, “but I'm more excited not to be the last.”

The third-year pro, a Navajo and San Felipe Pueblo woman, wants to inspire young Native American soccer players to chase their dreams. And she wants them to understand that her own dream-chasing on the soccer pitch has been fueled by strength she draws from her Indigenous ancestry and her Native community. 

“For me, my Native ancestry is what gives me strength and resilience to chase whatever dream or goal that I have,” Hammond told Native News Online.

"Yellowstone" Lakota Actor Moses Brings Plenty Wants to be U.S. President

Chris James, president and CEO of the National Center for American Enterprise Development, sat down with actor Moses Brings Plenty (Lakota) of the popular Yellowstone television series at the 2022 Reservation Economic Summit (RES).

When asked about what is next for him, Moses Brings Plenty, wearing his hair in braids with a black cowboy hat, said: “Yellowstone's going to be kind of hard, tough to top. But in the end, I do have an idea, and my idea has been a dream for a while. I think when the time is right, maybe I'll start pursuing it and make it a reality. And that is to be the next President of the United States.”

His answer pleased the audience, which clapped loudly and gave out some whooping sounds.

Chef Stephanie “Pyet” Despain Wins Next Level Chef

When a beaming Gordon Ramsay enthusiastically asks to fill your champagne glass, and you find yourself clinking flutes of bubbly with him and celebrity chefs Richard Blais and Nyesha Arrington in a toast to your talent and success, you know you’ve made it big in the food biz.

That was the exhilarating scene Prairie Band Potawatomi and Mexican-American Chef Stephanie “Pyet” Despain soaked up when she was declared the winner of Fox reality cooking competition Next Level Chef.

Pyet’s triumph, the climax of 11 stressful weeks of competition, comes with $250,000 and a priceless year-long mentorship with show co-hosts Ramsay, Arrington and Blais. 

“I feel like I’m a part of history,” Pyet said through tears of happiness, with her mother Delfina at her side and a cheering crowd applauding her, after Ramsay bestowed upon her the coveted title of “Next Level Chef.”  

“You use the strength of your background every time you pick up an ingredient,” Ramsay told Pyet. In an aside, Ramsay added “Pyet has heart, drive and an undeniable talent.”

Bois Forte Band Gets 28,000 Acres of Land Back in Northern Minnesota

In the largest land-back agreement in Minnesota and the largest-ever in Indian Country, the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe today restored more than 28,000 acres of land within its reservation boundaries back to tribal ownership.

The purchase of the 28,089 acres in northern Minnesota from The Conservation Fund will restore lands that were sold by the federal government to non-Natives as “surplus” under the Allotment Act, which attempted to break up tribal reservations. 

“So when we hear about reservations today, a lot of that land is not our land,” Cathy Chavers, chairwoman of The Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, said during a live streamed announcement today at Nett Lake, Minn. 

Chavers described the Bois Forte reservation as a “checkerboard” that sits roughly 45 miles south of the Canadian border. The “checkerboard” reservation is divided into three sectors: Nett Lake, Vermilion, and Deer Creek. The 28,000 acres will be restored in the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sections of the reservation.

An Alaska Medical School Has a Record Number of Indigenous Students. That Number is 3.

When Dr. Elise Pletnikoff (The Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak) attended medical school from 2006 to 2010, she could not imagine what an Alaska Native female physician might even look like. The idea of what it meant to look “professional” was vague to Pletnikoff, who grew up doing commercial fishing with her father near Kodiak Island, southwest of Anchorage.

“A young, Native female — that look carries just as much intelligence and belonging in the healthcare system as we more traditionally might think of as a physician,” Pletnikoff, now a family medicine doctor in her hometown, Kodiak, told Native News Online. “That was just not something I had exposure to.”

When Dr. Pletnikoff graduated from medical school in 2010, she was one of two Indigenous students in her cohort of 10. A decade later, there’s still a dearth of Indigenous medical students and physicians. 

Detroit Lions Rookie Malcolm Rodriguez Joins the Community of Indigenous NFL Players

The waiting game is over for rookie Malcolm Rodriguez (Cherokee). 

Last spring, the former Oklahoma State University standout had to wait until the third day of the NFL draft to hear his name called by the Detroit Lions, who selected him with the 188th overall pick.  

When the season kicked off last weekend, though, Rodriguez didn’t have to wait very long to hear his name called as a starting linebacker in an NFL stadium. 

After an impressive summer camp and preseason, Rodriguez, 23, a sixth-round draft pick, earned his first NFL start in the Lion’s season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. He’s the lowest Lions’ draft choice to earn a season-opener start in his rookie year since 1987.    

While his on-field debut may have surprised some, it wasn’t a shocker for Lions coaches or for Rodriguez, who had been working with the defensive unit’s first team since August. He will likely play a crucial role this season in the Lions’ defense, which was well below average last season, ranking 31st in points allowed, 32nd in passing yards, and 30th in sacks.

Native Bidaské with Reservation Dogs Actor Elva Guerra

On Native Bidaské (Spotlight), Native News Online’s Neely Bardwell and Kristen Lilya welcomed Elva Guerra.

Guerra plays Jackie on the hit FX show Reservation Dogs that first premiered last summer. Guerra is a two-spirit Indigenous actor who first got their break when they auditioned for the show, thinking they were just going in to be a background actor. They have since made great strides in their acting career, and we can expect to see more of their character in the newly released Season Two of Reservation Dogs.

“I think that was one of my hardest parts about coming to terms with being nonbinary and being a part of the LGBTQ+ community and just also trying to be an actor all at once — it’s almost like all of these things could be at fault to my career,” Guerra explained. 

“I really did try to put a little bit of myself into Jackie, including her clothing. It’s very androgynous and her haircut, it was my haircut when I was 16 when I first auditioned. Sterlin Harjo wanting that hairstyle on me was putting myself onto the screen. It was that little bit of showing the world who I am but not really saying it.”

Opening of Chicago Field Museum’s Native Truths Exhibition Marks a ‘New Beginning’

The Chicago Field Museum opened its new Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories exhibition to the public, revealing its first renovation of the museum’s Native North America Hall since its initial installation during the 1950s. The exhibition is centered around five core content permanent sections called “Native Truths” that present essential information about Native experience and culture, along with six rotating story galleries.

The exhibition came together after four and a half years of collaborations between Native elders, community members, artists, educators, scholars, and museum staff. Representing 105 different tribes and displaying an estimated 400 items, it explores current issues like tribal sovereignty and climate change while honoring Native history and culture. 

“I’m awestruck,” said Dakota and Diné artist and comedian Dallas Goldtooth as he walked through the exhibition. “I’m so used to these spaces feeling so foreign, because it’s like we’re on display, Native people and cultures are on display. This very much feels like we are in charge of the narrative.” 

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