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Inside a small-town Native American beauty pageant

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Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

Each year, pageants like Miss Native American and Miss Indian World invite indigenous women from around the United States to represent historically disenfranchised tribes and celebrate their cultural heritage.

And in the rural town of Pembroke, North Carolina, which sits along the state’s southern border, a much smaller annual pageant takes place: one honoring the girls and women of a tribe that has fought for federal recognition for over 130 years.

Kerigahn Jacobs, Miss Teen Lumbee 2018, and Lyndsey Locklear, Miss Lumbee 2018, wearing their native regalia.

Kerigahn Jacobs, Miss Teen Lumbee 2018, and Lyndsey Locklear, Miss Lumbee 2018, wearing their native regalia. Credit: Natalie Keyssar

The Lumbee Homecoming is a week-long summer event hosted by the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, and includes competitions for Miss Lumbee, Teen Miss Lumbee, Junior Miss Lumbee, Little Miss Lumbee and Senior Ms. Lumbee, as well as a veteran’s ball, pow wow and parade.

This year’s Homecoming, originally set to begin in late June, was canceled for the first time in its five-decade history due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But in 2018, Brooklyn-based photographer Natalie Keyssar, who grew up two hours away in Durham, traveled to Pembroke to document the festivities.

The pageant is “a celebration of Lumbee beauty and … the empowered Lumbee woman,” Keyssar said over a video call. “It’s this joy in identity … it’s this reverence for the strong women in their community.”

Asserting their identity

Homecoming is a chance for the 55,000-strong Lumbee community to come together and take pride in its heritage. The women recognized in the Lumbee pageants become ambassadors for the year ahead, representing the tribe at various events to help educate people about its history and cultural practices.

The Lumbee tribe website says it is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River, yet it is only recognized at the state level. In 1956, Congress passed the Lumbee Act, acknowledging the Lumbee as a Native American tribe but denying it the right to self-govern or receive federal funding.

All former Miss Lumbees are called on stage and given a rose during a break in the pageant.

All former Miss Lumbees are called on stage and given a rose during a break in the pageant. Credit: Natalie Keyssar

Earlier this month, however, a committee in the US House of Representatives approved bipartisan legislation that would grant the tribe its long sought-after status, allowing the bill to move forward to the House floor. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden recently said he would back federal recognition of the Lumbee, which tends to be a “swing tribe” at the ballot box.

The Lumbee have a unique history. The tribe’s faith is primarily Baptist and its members descend from several Native American tribes, including the Cheraw, that intermarried with Whites and free African Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though the Lumbee lost their ancestral language through colonization, today they speak the Lumbee English dialect.

“There’s a pretty incredible rebellious, revolutionary history of the Lumbee,” Keyssar said, pointing to events in 1958, when the tribe famously drove away a Klu Klux Klan rally in the so-called Battle of Hayes Pond. The homecoming is a “cultural celebration that is so relevant to the history of the South,” the photographer added. “And it’s revolutionary and anti-racist in nature.”

Mahlea Hunt, Miss Teen Lumbee of 2017, checks her reflection backstage.

Mahlea Hunt, Miss Teen Lumbee of 2017, checks her reflection backstage. Credit: Natalie Keyssar

The pageant shows the tribe’s “profound fusion of Southern culture,” Keyssar said. Participants are scored across several events, including a talent portion, during which contestants often sing gospel songs. They change outfits between segments, switching from evening gowns to colorful long-sleeve traditional dresses that honor and reclaim their history.

“They have their (dresses) designed — they order them from the Midwest — because there’s not really a tradition of manufacturing regalia in Lumbee country. It was taken away from them by colonizers,” Keyssar said. “Some of the Native American traditions of the tribe were broken up by colonization, so in a certain way, they’re being recreated.”

Community pride

At each of the week’s pageants, Keyssar took portraits on stage and behind the scenes, as contestants prepared for their entrances and previous ambassadors returned to pass their crowns to new honorees. Friends and family often stayed with contestants to help with their hair and makeup, Keyssar said.

Mahlea Hunt, Miss Teen Lumbee 2017, prepares backstage for her farewell performance at the pageant.

Mahlea Hunt, Miss Teen Lumbee 2017, prepares backstage for her farewell performance at the pageant. Credit: Natalie Keyssar

“The poise and performative power of these young women completely blew me away,” the photographer said. (Though, she added, the anxiety of the younger contestants contrasted starkly with the cool and collected Ms. Senior Lumbee hopefuls, who have sometimes been participating for decades.)

In one of her most striking images, Keyssar captured a contestant, Kerighan, moments after she claimed the title of Miss Teen Lumbee. When Kerighan won, the emotion was palpable, Keyssar recalled.

Kerigahn weeps as she is named Miss Teen Lumbee 2018.

Kerigahn weeps as she is named Miss Teen Lumbee 2018. Credit: Natalie Keyssar

“The moment that Kerighan won … was pretty powerful,” Keyssar said. “(The contestants) are playing these incredibly polished roles throughout the competition. And then she’s a teenage girl and she’s crying (and) smiling … but trembling visibly.”

Current and former ambassadors then come together for a parade, waving to the crowds from floats and cars that drive through the town. Keyssar said it’s a time of joy in a community that has long faced adversity, from high poverty rates to historic flooding.

“(It’s) not a place where life is particularly easy,” she noted. But during Homecoming “there’s just so much pride coming down the street. There are so many (pageant) queens and everybody’s so excited.

“It’s pretty magical,” she added.

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Amnesty International accuses Guinea of post-election crackdown

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The UK-based rights group said Guinean security forces fired live rounds against protesters during post-election unrest that has killed at least 10 people.

Amnesty International says security forces in Guinea fired live rounds at protesters during post-election unrest that have killed at least 10 people in the unstable West African nation.

In a statement on Sunday, the United Kingdom-based rights group said witness statements and video analysis confirmed protesters were targeted.

Amnesty also condemned internet disruptions during the deadly violence.

President Alpha Conde, 82, won a controversial third presidential term – which requires confirmation by the Constitutional Court – with 59.49 percent of the votes, Guinea’s electoral commission said on Saturday.

But the country’s leading opposition politician Cellou Dalein Diallo has disputed the result and claimed victory himself a day after the contested October 18 poll.

He said he has evidence of fraud and plans to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court.

Diallo’s victory claim triggered clashes between his supporters and security forces across the country.

The opposition puts the one-week death toll at 27 people – a figure that cannot be independently verified at this time.

Amnesty said it was still analysing information but added that based on what it has already gathered, coupled with local news reports, “dozens of people might have been killed”.

In a video of recent unrest in the capital Conakry, the group said a security officer shot people at very close range, “without any apparent threat to his life [and] in violation of international rules on the use of firearms by armed forces”.

Amnesty also analysed pictures taken in the northern Labe region – a Diallo stronghold – which showed bullet casings from AK-47 assault rifles.

It said Guinean security forces deployed in the region often carry such rifles, although the government denies this.

“Authorities must stop the use of firearms,” Fabien Offner, an Amnesty researcher, said in the statement.

“If criminal culpability is found, those suspected must be brought to justice in fair trials before civilian courts,” he said.

Guinea’s government was not immediately available for comment.

‘Attack on freedom of expression’

Separately, Amnesty also criticised internet and phone-line cuts on Friday and Saturday – calling them a “frontal attack on freedom of expression”.

“This new standstill of various means of communications constitutes an attack on freedom of expression and an attempt to silence protesters, human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers,” said Offner.

“The authorities must immediately lift the suspension of Guinéematin.com news website and the restrictions on access to internet and social media so that everyone can freely express himself and journalists can do their job.”

A former opposition activist, Conde became Guinea’s first democratically-elected president in 2010 and won re-election in 2015.

Critics accuse him of drifting towards authoritarianism, however.

In March, the octogenarian president pushed through a new constitution he said would modernise the country.

It also allowed him to bypass a two-term presidential limit, which provoked mass protests from October 2019, during which security forces have killed dozens of people.

Before assuming office, Conde had been a long-standing opposition figure who was jailed and exiled for his views against Guinea’s military government.

Diallo is a former prime minister who also finished runner-up to Conde in the 2010 and 2015 elections.

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US Supreme Court pick ‘often ruled for police’ in force cases

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As appellate judge, Amy Coney Barrett often sided with police in excessive force cases, a Reuters analysis found.

In her three years as a federal appeals court judge, US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett has consistently sided with police or prison guards accused of using excessive force, a Reuters news agency review of cases she was involved in shows.

Barrett, Republican President Donald Trump’s third nominee to the high court, has written opinions or been a part of three-judge panels that have ruled in favour of defendants in 11 of 12 cases in which law enforcement was accused of using excessive force in violation of the US Constitution.

The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to vote to confirm Barrett, a judge on the Chicago-based 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, to the lifetime position on Monday, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority.

While her Senate confirmation hearings focused attention on how she might rule on cases related to abortion, Obamacare and elections, the Reuters review illustrates Barrett’s record on police use of force at a time of reckoning in the United States.

There has been a wave of protests nationwide – and abroad – since May 25 when a Black man named George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, just one in a long string of killings that civil rights advocates say is evidence of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

“Her record also makes clear she is predisposed to side with law enforcement in the context of excessive force cases,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which opposes Barrett’s confirmation.

Other groups that advocate for reform of the criminal justice system say she has written some encouraging rulings, with an overall record that is mixed. Barrett could not be reached for comment.

Qualified immunity

In five cases, the panel on which Barrett took part considered a request by police or corrections officers to be shielded from the lawsuits alleging excessive force through a controversial legal defence known as qualified immunity. The court granted those requests in four of the five cases.

A Reuters investigation published two weeks before Floyd’s death found the immunity defence, created by the Supreme Court 50 years ago, has been making it easier for police to kill or injure civilians with impunity. The report showed that federal appellate courts have been granting police immunity at increasing rates in recent years.

Barrett, who was appointed to the appeals court by Trump in 2017, wrote a ruling in July that said Green Bay, Wisconsin officers who shot and killed a suicidal man who had threatened them with a knife did not use excessive force in violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits illegal searches and seizures.

She was also part of rulings that overturned lower court decisions against Indianapolis police officers. In one, a federal judge had denied qualified immunity to officers in the case of shoplifting suspect Terrell Day, who died while handcuffed after telling officers he was having trouble breathing.

Barrett dissented from a 7th Circuit panel decision in 2019 to revive a lawsuit against prison guards at an Illinois prison for firing warning shots over a dining hall to help break up a fight, injuring several inmates.

She has also handled requests for qualified immunity outside of the excessive force context.

Barrett last year threw out a lawsuit by three Black men who sued Chicago cops for pulling them over while investigating a drive-by shooting near a school. The men, who had nothing to do with the shooting, said they were targeted because of their race, citing the “racialised nature of the mockery and threats” made by one of the officers. The driver, Marcus Torry, told the cops that he was complying because he feared police brutality.

Barrett granted the officers qualified immunity because it was not “clearly established” that the officers’ actions were unreasonable, noting that the plaintiffs matched the description of the suspects “in number, race and car color”.

In other cases, she has shown a willingness to side with plaintiffs.

In 2019, she wrote a ruling rejecting immunity for a police officer who used false statements in making the case against a murder suspect. She also joined a ruling denying immunity for officers who were accused of falsifying evidence that caused a man to be jailed for two years.

“I don’t think we can draw definite conclusions about how Judge Barrett would approach qualified immunity once she’s on the Supreme Court,” said Jay Schweikert, a policy analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute, which is campaigning against qualified immunity. “Her decisions all look like reasonable applications of existing precedent.”

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Belarus police fire stun grenades as 100,000 protest

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The opposition has given Belarusian President Lukashenko an ultimatum: Resign by midnight or face a national strike.

Belarusian police have used stun grenades against protesters as more than 100,000 people marched in the capital Minsk demanding President Alexander Lukashenko resign.

The police action came hours before the expiration of an ultimatum set by the opposition: Lukashenko must resign by midnight or face a national strike.

Protesters carrying the red-and-white flags of the Belarusian opposition movement scattered on Sunday as loud bangs and flashes lit up the city’s streets after nightfall, videos showed.

Explosions and white smoke filled residential areas as people hid behind vehicles and ran from police, the videos, shared online by reputable news organisations, showed.

Law enforcement confirmed riot control weapons had been used and detentions had taken place, the TASS and RIA news agencies reported.

It was the 11th straight weekend of mass protests since a disputed election in August plunged the country into turmoil.

Karel Lannoo, CEO at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, told Al Jazeera on Sunday the resilience of the opposition movement was putting huge pressure on Lukashenko.

“They have managed to come out like this each Sunday. This Sunday again more than 100,000 protesters came out even if the police has been very forceful in the streets trying to prevent them from demonstrating,” he said.

“I do not expect Lukashenko to step down today, but I think the resistance remains extremely strong. We also see that all the European countries as well as the United States and other Western countries have given very clear warnings to Lukashenko,” Lannoo said.

“Sooner or later he will have to step down.”

A national strike

Earlier on Sunday, crowds streamed through the capital shouting “strike”, waving flags and beating drums.

At least 12 metro stations were closed, helmeted riot police patrolled the streets and mobile internet services were disrupted in Minsk.

Two journalists were arrested before the protest, a local journalists’ association said.

Tens of people were arrested and security forces used tear gas in the western town of Lida, the Russian news agency RIA quoted the regional branch of the interior ministry as saying.

The Viasna Human Rights Centre reported about 60 arrests in various cities in the country where there were also protests.

A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for more than a quarter of a century and has shown little inclination to quit, buoyed by loans and the offer of military support from traditional ally Russia.

The president’s main opponents have been jailed or fled into exile following the August 9 election, which Lukashenko’s opponents accuse him of rigging to win a sixth straight term. He denies electoral fraud.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, his main electoral challenger, has led calls from exile for a national strike to begin on Monday if Lukashenko refuses to release all political prisoners and resign to make way for a new election.

“Today at 23:59 the term of the People’s Ultimatum will expire, and if the demands are not met, the Belarusians will start a national strike,” she said in a statement.

Lukashenko has signalled that he would ignore the ultimatum.

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