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Lakota Law

I hope you’re hanging in there in what has become a more difficult and surreal year with every passing month. As if 2020 hadn’t hit hard enough yet, the death this week of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg landed yet another troubling blow to the health and safety of our democracy. But we’re pushing back in Indian Country.  

The fate of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) is one among many issues that could be adversely affected, if the Senate confirms a conservative nominee from President Trump as Justice Ginsberg’s replacement. But because Joe Biden’s team has announced his intention to shut down both DAPL and Keystone XL (KXL), the courts could be removed from the equation entirely should he become president.

In our new DAPL Archive video, SD Rancher Marv Kammerer — the personification of what mutual understanding and alliance-building should look like — discusses appropriate stewardship of land and water.

No matter what happens in November, we must stand unified, together, across dividing lines real and imagined, to protect our future in this homeland. To see exactly what that looks like, I invite you to watch our latest DAPL Archive video. In 2017, I wrote an op-ed in The Hill about DAPL’s continuation of the age-old battle between cowboys and Indians. I’m happy to say that, in 2020, we have now evolved a small cowboy-Indian alliance against DAPL and KXL. Listen to our ally, rancher Marv Kammerer. You’ll be inspired.

At the end of the day, it is our shared values — not our racial differences — that must determine where we stand and where we’re going. By giving our common values a chance to resonate, we can heal the past and present and create the future we want. 
 
Please stay with us as we begin to hire and train dozens of Standing Rock tribal members to call voters in states like Florida and Arizona between now and Nov 3. We’ll make sure Native votes are cast and counted in this all-important election. Despite the challenges 2020 has brought, America will hear our voice. As Marv so eloquently puts it, we must be proper stewards of this land. So let us rise to the occasion.

Wopila tanka — thank you for being part of our alliance!

Chase Iron Eyes
Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

The Pebble Mine Project

https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/pebble-mine-ceo-resigns-after-recorded-comments-released-rOdR6lVo-E-uvJxurb2sqQ

‘We are dealing with a company that has lied to everyone’

Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Corrected: Added tribal affiliation for the director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay 

The head of a proposed copper and gold mine near a prime Alaska salmon fishery has resigned after covertly filmed videos showed him talking about elected and regulatory officials and unreleased plans for the huge project.

Northern Dynasty, owner of Pebble Limited Partnership, announced the resignation of Pebble Limited CEO Tom Collier in a statement Wednesday.

The Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group, this week released secretly recorded Zoom conversations between Collier, Northern Dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen and activists posing as investors. The conversations occurred in August and earlier this month.

In the videos, the mine developers describe their plans for a much bigger and longer-lasting mine than they’ve presented in the permitting process. They also claim their political connections are working to their benefit.

Become a Member: Lakota Law Project

Lakota Law header

Despite COVID tearing through the Dakotas in the wake of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and wildfires threatening our team in California, we’re as committed to lifting up our communities as we ever have been. No doubt about it, 2020 has been a challenging year. It’s forced us to develop new strategies for securing justice and achieving our goals. <a rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank" href="https://click.everyaction.com/k/19205198/252206446/1958792018?utm_source=ea&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mlfh&utm_content=textlink&sourceid=1042976&amp;

rac=,lpnl

&nvep=ew0KICAiVGVuYW50VXJpIjogIm5ncHZhbjovL3Zhbi9FQS9FQTAwMS8xLzU4MDcwIiwNCiAgIkRpc3RyaWJ1dGlvblVuaXF1ZUlkIjogImRlMTY4NjBhLTZmZjgtZWExMS05OWMzLTAwMTU1ZDAzOWU3NCIsDQogICJFbWFpbEFkZHJlc3MiOiAiYXp0ZWM4ODg4QGFvbC5jb20iDQp9&hmac=ke7PoBOq6ZnUqC2Qe0IQ_hFLFUE7lPUxAbGUF9lImFQ=&emci=5e2001a3-9cf3-ea11-99c3-00155d039e74&emdi=de16860a-6ff8-ea11-99c3-00155d039e74&ceid=2659296″>That’s why we’re launching a membership program for Lakota Law, and we want you to be one of the first to join. Because a donor has promised to match all gifts, your generosity will do twice as much good.

What does membership with us mean? It means that together, we can make an even bigger impact on our journey to justice for the Lakota People. It will give you new ways to build community with like-minded supporters, contribute to the projects that matter most to you, and ensure stability for our work during turbulent times.

We know the value of stability. Last year, we realized a longtime dream when we bought a house on the Standing Rock Nation and opened a foster home for some of the reservation’s most at-risk children. In partnership with community members, the home has provided a safe place — in Native care — for 25 Lakota kids in 2020. And it has given those children stability. <a rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank" href="https://click.everyaction.com/k/19205199/252206447/1958792018?utm_source=ea&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mlfh&utm_content=textlink&sourceid=1042976&amp;

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&nvep=ew0KICAiVGVuYW50VXJpIjogIm5ncHZhbjovL3Zhbi9FQS9FQTAwMS8xLzU4MDcwIiwNCiAgIkRpc3RyaWJ1dGlvblVuaXF1ZUlkIjogImRlMTY4NjBhLTZmZjgtZWExMS05OWMzLTAwMTU1ZDAzOWU3NCIsDQogICJFbWFpbEFkZHJlc3MiOiAiYXp0ZWM4ODg4QGFvbC5jb20iDQp9&hmac=ke7PoBOq6ZnUqC2Qe0IQ_hFLFUE7lPUxAbGUF9lImFQ=&emci=5e2001a3-9cf3-ea11-99c3-00155d039e74&emdi=de16860a-6ff8-ea11-99c3-00155d039e74&ceid=2659296″>Renee, will you join us by becoming a member of the Lakota People’s Law Project today?

<a rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank" href="https://click.everyaction.com/k/19205200/252206448/1958792018?utm_source=ea&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mlfh&utm_content=piclink&sourceid=1042976&amp;

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&nvep=ew0KICAiVGVuYW50VXJpIjogIm5ncHZhbjovL3Zhbi9FQS9FQTAwMS8xLzU4MDcwIiwNCiAgIkRpc3RyaWJ1dGlvblVuaXF1ZUlkIjogImRlMTY4NjBhLTZmZjgtZWExMS05OWMzLTAwMTU1ZDAzOWU3NCIsDQogICJFbWFpbEFkZHJlc3MiOiAiYXp0ZWM4ODg4QGFvbC5jb20iDQp9&hmac=ke7PoBOq6ZnUqC2Qe0IQ_hFLFUE7lPUxAbGUF9lImFQ=&emci=5e2001a3-9cf3-ea11-99c3-00155d039e74&emdi=de16860a-6ff8-ea11-99c3-00155d039e74&ceid=2659296″>Some of our foster kids with their tribal foster parent, at our kinship care home on Standing Rock Nation.

Over the years, your support has created a better world for Lakota children and families. In the beginning, I formed the Lakota Child Rescue Project. In 2012, we hosted an Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Summit. We transported dozens of Standing Rock families to Rapid City. There, tribal members from across South Dakota testified about the state’s Department of Social Services removing our children to illegally place them in non-Native care.

Now, your support can help fund a youth center adjacent to our Standing Rock foster home. We’re optimistic that, with your help, we could break ground as early as spring of 2021! So much of the suffering on our reservations — the suicide rates, the substance abuse, the juvenile offenses — could be solved by providing more resources for our young ones. We must work together to provide consistent places to sleep, learn, and play. That’s what building real stability looks like.

Wopila tanka — my deep gratitude to you for your committed friendship!
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project
 

P.S. Lakota Law members join a community of like-minded supporters and give us financial stability, ensuring that our work together is both strategic and effective. As a member you’ll receive meaningful benefits, including new ways to connect with us — and with each other. <a rel="noreferrer noopener" target="_blank" href="https://click.everyaction.com/k/19205202/252206450/1958792018?utm_source=ea&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mlfh&utm_content=pslink&sourceid=1042976&amp;

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&nvep=ew0KICAiVGVuYW50VXJpIjogIm5ncHZhbjovL3Zhbi9FQS9FQTAwMS8xLzU4MDcwIiwNCiAgIkRpc3RyaWJ1dGlvblVuaXF1ZUlkIjogImRlMTY4NjBhLTZmZjgtZWExMS05OWMzLTAwMTU1ZDAzOWU3NCIsDQogICJFbWFpbEFkZHJlc3MiOiAiYXp0ZWM4ODg4QGFvbC5jb20iDQp9&hmac=ke7PoBOq6ZnUqC2Qe0IQ_hFLFUE7lPUxAbGUF9lImFQ=&emci=5e2001a3-9cf3-ea11-99c3-00155d039e74&emdi=de16860a-6ff8-ea11-99c3-00155d039e74&ceid=2659296″>Please visit our website to learn more; and become a member by Saturday, Sept. 26 to join us for our special Membership Launch Event that day with me, Chase Iron Eyes, and our Lakota Law leaders!

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Victory for Red Fawn!

The best news I have heard this year! She should never have been arrested in the first place. It was a clear set up and attempt to intimidate protestors.

Image Credit: Twitter: @lakotalaw

An Indigenous water protector who was arrested during protests against the Dakota Access pipeline has been released from federal prison. Prosecutors accused Red Fawn Fallis of firing three shots from a handgun as police in riot gear, wielding batons, surrounded her to make an arrest amid mass protests against the pipeline in 2016. Red Fawn’s uncle, Glenn Morris, welcomed her release Thursday, telling Indian Country Today, “The real criminals continue to pump oil through the pipeline in violation of the 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaties and US environmental laws.”

https://www.democracynow.org/2020/9/11/headlines/standing_rock_water_protector_red_fawn_fallis_leaves_federal_prison

Regarding Mascots

Lakota Law

This year has called on us to respond with unprecedented creativity to unprecedented challenges. We’ve had to use the platforms we have to think big, make bold statements, and create rapid change. That’s why I was so heartened last week to see players in the National Basketball Association (NBA) take their position and influence seriously. After a police officer shot yet another black man — Jacob Blake — seven times in the back, players refused to take the court for their playoff games. Then they met, formed a plan, and got buy-in from team owners and the league to use NBA arenas as polling places and voting centers in November.

Unfortunately, no other American pro sports league approaches the NBA’s level of social justice awareness. Just weeks ago, after years of pressure, Washington, D.C.’s pro football team finally announced it would change its name from the most offensive in all of sports. But sports mascots and branding appropriated from Native culture are still all too common. This includes the Superbowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and baseball’s Atlanta Braves. Please sign and share our petition to change offensive sports mascots and branding, and watch my video about why it’s so important.

Lakota Law

So many people watch and participate in sports, on every level from little league to the pros. Offensive team names, mascots, and logos impact all of us from a young age. Minor league baseball teams and college programs — like the Florida State Seminoles, whose fans often display the offensive “tomahawk chop” in stadiums — are guilty, just like the pros. A long time ago, I did all I could to help change my own alma mater’s nickname from the North Dakota State Fighting Sioux to the Fighting Hawks. Now I can be proud of my school.

These symbols rely upon stereotypes which demean Native culture and have real, negative effects on Indigenous children. Their continued existence perpetuates bullying and alienation. 

Now, the NBA has shown a new way for sports to approach social justice. And the players’ solution — making voting in black and brown communities easier — is wonderful. On that subject, I urge you also to read about our effort, in concert with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and two members of Congress, to pass the Native American Voting Rights Act. We stand in solidarity with the NBA players. Let’s increase turnout from communities of color, this November and beyond. Our voices must be heard!

Wopila tanka — my gratitude for your continued action!

Chase Iron Eyes
Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Covid-19

Yakama Nation: ‘We’ve got a long way to go’

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today Newscast with guest Chairman Delano Saluskin from the Yakama Nation and reporter-producer Kolby KickingWoman

Patty Talahongva
Indian Country Today

The coronavirus is affecting tribes across the country in different ways, depending on the location of the tribe, the size of the population and the access to healthcare.

In the pacific northwest, the Yakama Nation is working hard to keep COVID-19 at bay. On today’s newscast we have Yakama Chairman Delano Saluskin. 

Our reporter-producer Kolby KickingWoman reflects on the Republican National Convention this week. 

A few comments from today:

Chairman Delano Saluskin:

“We have 11,500 tribal members and we have had almost 2,900 tests and we’ve lost 35 tribal members. So we probably have recovered around 2,850 or so.”

“We’ve had pretty good collaboration between Indian health Service. There’s a group called Medical Teams International, Washington State National Guard, and so we’ve had a good collaboration and are trying to get tests for everybody that wants one or needs one. And we’re very grateful to all these other organizations that have been working with us the best they can.

“We’ve tried to educate our people a little bit about the coronavirus. We’ve done the best we can to show them where to go and get help. You know, we’ve done the best we can to get contact tracing. So we’ve let them know about what’s really going on in our tribal government.”

“I think that’s the most difficult group there is, trying to talk to our younger people. As a young person, I’m sure you realize a lot of them believe that they’re invincible. However, they don’t realize that they do pose a risk to their brothers and sisters, to their parents to their grandparents and other loved ones in their family that live in their house. We don’t know who has it, who doesn’t have it and when they go out as if there is nothing to be concerned about, we find that that’s where a lot of the coronavirus, that’s how it spreads is, maybe through our younger people, more so than anything.”

“That was one of the things that we identified early on is that this coronavirus impacts all of us. And there’s a lot of our tribal members who are very fluent in our language. Maybe they don’t fully understand the English language or the English significance of what we’re dealing with.”

“There have been a lot of things that he’s (Tony) really contributed to… our dealing with this coronavirus and the traditional aspect of it has been very difficult because, you know, we get told, ‘well, you can’t do this.’”

“We realize it, but we’re not preventing you from praying, or we’re not preventing you from singing. You can still do that. We’re trying to protect the general population. Sometimes, that isn’t an easy message to spread.”

“It’s good for the mind. And it’s good for the soul. And it’s good for the heart.”

“Our casino just opened up two weeks ago. We were the very last casino in the state of Washington to reopen. We took a very conservative approach to our casino reopening. And we did, we really tried to listen to the science, not just the need for dollars.”

“We’re way under counted. You know, like I mentioned, we did have a meeting with two of our staff, people that have a responsibility to get the complete count. And they had just begun some of their activities in March when the pandemic started and we shut down. And everybody, as you know, everybody’s a little bit leery of anybody that comes to your house or, or anything, but we had a meeting Friday, I think we’re back on track. Our goal is to get to a hundred percent or close to a hundred percent as possible. Right now we were told we’re at about 53%, so we’ve got a long way to go.”

“We should have been at all the graduations. We should have been at all the schools trying to get these young people registered at that time, but now we have to play catch up again.”

“We had to remind people that even though there’s pandemics going on, it’s no excuse for us not to participate in the Census.”

Kolby KickingWoman:

“He ran through a number of accomplishments that the Trump administration has achieved over these first three and a half years. Ranging from funding from the CARES act to the appointment of conservative judges. He specifically mentioned Neil Gorsuch who was the swing vote in McGirt as we all know. He also talked about the reestablishment of the White House Council on Native American affairs, as well as the executive order and establishment of the White House task force on missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. I think it’s also worth noting that he was in the Oval Office when that executive order was signed.”

“Yeah. And not long after that, I believe he’s mentioned that every time that he’s met with Trump or that he believes Trump has met with Indian country, that he’s worked to repair the relationship between the federal government and Indian country. And in fact, to your point, he said, quote, ‘Our People have never been invited into the American Dream. We for years fought congressional battles with past congressmen and senators that were part of a broken system that ignored us,’ I thought that was a very interesting quote.”

“It didn’t include tribes. And I believe the Navajo Nation wrote a letter regarding the inclusion of Alaska Native Corporations that were a part of the $8 billion and how it was distributed. And there was also a very much delay in delivering those funds.”

“As you said, a lot of Trump’s… it seems to ring hollow, when it comes to Indian country. And so of course people are going to bounce on that, but I think it’s also important to note that Indian country issues are nonpartisan and tribal leaders need to work with whoever is in office, if they’re a Democrat or Republican. And so it’s good to have representation at the Republican National Convention as well as last week at the Democratic National Convention.”

“As far as I’ve seen as on the schedule, he is the only Native American to speak.”

“I saw something on social media recently that said, election day is 10 Tuesdays from now. And so you can frame it in all these ways, but election day will be here before we know it. And I believe there are some States that start next week, as far as mail-in ballots.”

“Every election seems to be the most important election of our lifetime and 2016 and 2018, there were concerns about voter suppression against Native Americans. And so, you know, getting out the vote for tribes is very important.”

“I think they’re stressing the importance of getting out the vote, however you can. And, it certainly seems this year that mail-in ballots will be used widely.”

Schools

Personal Note: I taught for 27 years in elementary education. Overcrowded classrooms, badly ventilated classrooms, and shared water fountains were the norm. No officials cared for the staff and students before, and I do not see how they will be able to address these problems now when the economy is in freefall. If I was not already retired I would be leaving the profession due to this pandemic. Certain politicians were put in high-level positions where they could undermine public education. Well, it occurs to me that I have witnessed the end of public education. It also seems to be following a trend: public postal service, public polling stations, public gatherings…it is almost as if we – the public – are under attack. A virus is being used as a weapon to disrupt and undermine everything we hold valuable. 
There is no talk about what you can do to improve your immune system.
There is no talk about how masks (which, if covered with a deadly virus, should be handled as a biohazard) are to be discarded. Instead, people are throwing them in the regular trash or on the street. Masks are becoming a source of pollution – like we needed another one.
There is no talk about how to take care of the growing amount of homeless as we swelter in the summer heat and head towards fall and winter.
There is no talk about how people will pay for a vaccine – a vaccine that requires two shots so far and will be given to the so-called ¨most neediest groups¨first: remember, it is an experimental vaccine and the pharmaceuticals companies have full immunity if something goes wrong. >The indigenous, the black, the elderly, the poor communities will be first. Something does not sound right to me about this. Since when do the powers-that-be care about what happens to ¨the most neediest groups¨? If they cared they would be discussing establishing Medicare for all – after all – the few who had employee healthcare now are without a job and have joined the large groups of people with no health coverage.

Every educator without a classroom, set up virtual classrooms online. Do not go back unless the proper cleaning and adjustments are made to classrooms. It is a bad idea for educators and a bad idea for students – it has always been that way and now a virus pandemic just shines the light on the bad situation. IMHO

Bureau of Indian Education: Open schools or else

(Photo: S. Hermann & F. Richter, Pixabay)

Mary Annette Pember

School opening during pandemic is a confusing, deadly challenge for reservation residents

Mary Annette Pember

Indian Country Today

The Bureau of Indian Education’s plans to reopen its schools for in-person instruction is irresponsible, according to many Native parents and tribal leaders across Indian Country.

Tara Sweeney, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, sent a letter to tribal leaders this month indicating that Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools will open Sept. 16 with in-person instruction. Sweeney wrote: “To the maximum extent possible, BIE (operated) schools will operate brick and mortar schools.”

According to its website, the Bureau of Indian Education oversees a total of 187 schools. Of those, 132 are tribally controlled, operating under the direction of individual tribes. Fifty-five are operated by the bureau. Although bureau leaders maintain they actively include input from tribal consultation and stakeholder meetings and surveys in crafting policies for both tribally controlled and bureau-operated schools, many tribal leaders disagree.

“These ‘Dear tribal leader’ letters sent out by the BIE don’t acknowledge the authority of tribal nations and our elected officials,” says Daniel Tso, Navajo Nation council delegate and chairman of Navajo Nation Health, Education and Human Services Committee.

Sweeney wrote: “The guidance in this letter specifically pertains to bureau-operated schools. However, BIE recommends tribally controlled schools take the recommendation included as guidance to inform their general operations and to prepare each learning environment for the 2020-2021 school year.”

Nearly half of the Navajo Nation’s 65 Bureau of Indian Education schools are operated directly by the bureau. Only about a third of all bureau-funded schools are operated by the agency. Most are tribally controlled schools.

During a meeting Wednesday, committee members created a resolution recommending all reservation schools provide virtual or online learning options.

“I realize that Mr. Dearman has to toe the line according to the orders of the Trump administration, but the BIE people in Washington, D.C., don’t know the lay of the land out here,” Tso says.

Tony Dearman of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is the director of the Bureau of Indian Education. In an email response to Indian Country Today, he referred questions about school openings to the Bureau of Indian Affairs office of public affairs.

Neither that office nor the Bureau of Indian Education responded to emails seeking comment.

President Donald Trump is pushing for public schools to open with in-person instruction.

Parents on the Navajo reservation are overwhelmingly opposed to sending their children back to in-person school instruction, according to Tso

“Our dear children need to be protected; On a per-capita basis, we are still experiencing high rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths (on the Navajo reservation),” Tso says.

The Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, has been one of the worst hotspots during the pandemic.

The reservation continues to operate under a declared state of emergency and has enacted numerous weekend lockdowns to curb travel on and off the reservation. Navajo Nation government offices remain closed, offering minimal services.

Overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Native Americans have the highest hospitalization rates for COVID-19 of any ethnicity.

KTUU of Anchorage reports that one in 1,600 Indigenous people are impacted by COVID-19, compared with about one in 3,200 for non-Natives. Native people also have higher rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, making them especially vulnerable to the disease.

Many Native people depend on the Indian Health Service, a chronically underfunded federal agency, for their health care needs.

“Our IHS clinics couldn’t handle an outbreak on the reservation. COVID-19 could potentially wipe out half of our nation here on Pine Ridge,” says Dayna Brave Eagle, tribal education agency director for the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe is still operating under a tribal shelter at home ordinance enacted in March prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people and closing its borders to nonresidents and nonessential travel except for state highway entrances for pass-through vehicles.

“I don’t know of anybody who wants to send their kid to in-person school,” says Davidica Littlespottedhorse, who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Five of the Bureau of Indian Education schools on the reservation are tribally controlled; only one, Pine Ridge School, is a bureau-operated school.

According to tribal council member Valentina Merdanian, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has ordered all reservation schools, including private, public and Bureau of Indian Education tribally controlled and bureau-controlled schools to offer remote instruction to students. Despite the bureau’s insistence that its directly operated schools offer in-person instruction, Pine Ridge School will offer only remote classes, according to Brave Eagle.

“The Oglala Sioux Tribe remains strong in looking after the health and welfare of our people; there are too many unanswered questions surrounding the pandemic for us to risk the health of our children,” Merdanian says.

Several Native leaders expressed concern that the Bureau of Indian Education may force its other bureau-controlled schools to offer in-person instruction regardless of individual tribes’ wishes.

“Yes, it’s totally possible that since the bureau-operated schools are federal, they will offer in-person instruction (regardless of tribal law),” says Carl Slater, Navajo Nation council delegate and a member of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee.

According to both Oglala Sioux and Navajo Nation leaders, communication from the Bureau of Indian Education has always been a problem.

As reported by Rebecca Klein and Neal Morton for the Hechinger Report, the bureau was slow to offer advice and close its schools in March, at the beginning of the pandemic.

According to Tso, the bureau’s Rocky Ridge boarding school on the Navajo reservation didn’t receive the agency-wide March notification to close for several days.

“Somehow they never got the message and remained open for several days. One of their staff died from COVID-19,” says Tso.

Although more students have received devices such as mobile phones, tablets and computers, limited internet access continues to be a problem.

“Many of our families live on a fixed income and can’t afford internet access fees,” says Brave Eagle.

Both the Navajo Nation and the Oglala Sioux Tribe are using their CAREs Act funds to expand internet access to families, but leaders worry funding is inadequate.

Members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs expressed concerns and asked for details regarding BIE’s distribution of CAREs Act funding to tribes during an oversight hearing in July.

“Several of our parents support using jump drives that can be exchanged weekly with the schools, but the BIE schools have not been receptive to these kinds of suggestions,” says Tso.

But schooling during a pandemic is a challenge for all schools serving reservation youth. According to the National Congress of American Indians, only about 8 percent of Native students attend Bureau of Indian Education schools; the remainder attend tribal, public or private schools both on and off the reservation.

“We’ve heard of some students transferring to schools off the reservation in order to access athletic programs,” says Merdanian.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has been operating under a shelter at home ordinance since March 2020. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember)
The Oglala Sioux Tribe has been operating under a shelter at home ordinance since March 2020. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember)

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is pushing for schools to remain open and is discouraging the use of masks. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control support in-person learning with social distancing, masks and cleaning protocols.

Brave Eagle finds the overall lack of clear, coordinated policies among schools disheartening.

She notes that the recent Bureau of Indian Education letter announcing the Pine Ridge School start date of Sept. 16, which is significantly later than some others, added to the confusion.

“All the schools are starting at different times,” she says.

“The BIE should be ashamed of themselves,” Brave Eagle says. “The federal government has failed us for the past 100 years, but now it’s time for tribes to stand up. We are the ones who know what we need.”

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Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.

Voting Rights >Action Needed!

Voting rights are under attack across America. President Trump’s threat to withhold funding from the U.S. Postal Service is just the latest attempt to limit our power by blocking free and fair elections. Of course, to Native people like me, this is nothing new. That’s why, two weeks ago, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe voted unanimously to team up with the Lakota People’s Law Project, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and U.S. House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) to make sure Congress passes the Native American Voting Rights Act (NAVRA) as soon as possible.

You can help us realize this vision! Please use your voice to inspire lawmakers to prioritize and pass this bill right now. Use our brand new Action Center to send a letter to your congressional reps today, and tell them it’s critical to support NAVRA. All voices must be heard for the health of our democratic institutions to truly be respected.

Lakota LawWe Standing Rocked the Vote in 2018, and now, with your help, we’ll pass NAVRA and ensure fair elections are held throughout all of Indian Country.

You likely recall that, in 2018, North Dakota passed a voter ID law specifically aimed at disenfranchising Native citizens without street addresses. I remain grateful that you leapt into action at that time, helping us Standing Rock the Vote. Together, we put 100 tribal volunteers on the street, printed 800 new IDs, and doubled turnout over the prior midterm.

But other Indigenous communities around the U.S. aren’t so fortunate. Many face significant hurdles, such as remote or difficult-to-reach polling locations, language barriers, and no vote-by-mail option. NAVRA will address these concerns and more.

I also want you to know that we’re just getting started. We intend to engage the members of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association — the leaders of 16 tribes throughout North and South Dakota and Nebraska. We’ll also organize with tribal nations around the country to gain bipartisan support, and we’ll train a group of ambassadors from Standing Rock to phonebank and turn out the national Native vote, come election time. The tribe has also requested a congressional hearing.

Voter suppression within communities of color must end, right now. We have the opportunity to make a tremendous difference — not just for folks on reservations, but for the future of our nation. Please join us in what could be the most important action we’ve ever undertaken together.

Wopila tanka — my thanks for standing with Native voters!

Phyllis Young
Standing Rock Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

P.S. No less than the fate of our democracy could be on the line if we don’t stand together to protect elections and the right of communities of color to cast our votes. Email your senator and congressperson and tell them to support — and pass — the Native American Voting Rights Act.

Lakota People's Law Project

Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

The Lakota People’s Law Project is part of the Romero Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) law and policy center. All donations are tax-deductible.

Regarding School Reopenings

New NCAI Header
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 14, 2020
CONTACT:
NCAI and NIEA Statement on BIE School Reopenings
WASHINGTON, D.C. | The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) express deep concern regarding reopening plans for Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools and the safety and health of all students, teachers, administrators, and community members.
On August 6, 2020, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released a ‘Dear Tribal Leader Letter’ expressing its intent to reopen BIE schools “to the maximum extent possible.” NCAI and NIEA strongly urge DOI to consult meaningfully with tribal nations before reopening BIE schools. DOI must ensure it addresses tribal needs and concerns, such as guaranteeing remote education options, securing reliable personal protective equipment vendors, considering teacher willingness to return to in-person instruction, student transportation needs, and other critical issues.
NCAI and NIEA firmly believe that schools should only reopen for in-classroom instruction if it can be done safely. Moreover, such decisions should only be made after meaningful consultation with, and input from, the local tribal community and its tribal administration. Given the risks to the safety and welfare of Native students and their families, great deference should be given to the local tribal communities’ opinions concerning reopening classrooms. We also believe that BIE must be transparent with its reopening plan and give specific examples of measures it will take to ensure the safety and well-being of Native students and their families. In addition to in-person instruction, there must be an online instruction option, such that education continues seamlessly, especially for students receiving special education services.
NCAI and NIEA are eager to see plans in the form of the BIE “Toolkit” outlined in the August 6 letter. The swift dissemination of this information will demonstrate transparency and aid Indian Country and our Native families to understand the protocols and precautions BIE is taking to ensure a safe educational environment for our most sacred beings – our children.
For more information, please contact the following:
Kevin Allis, NCAI Chief Executive Officer, kallis@ncai.org
Diana Cournoyer, NIEA Executive Director, dcournoyer@niea.org
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About the National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people, and rights. For more information, visit www.ncai.org.
About the National Indian Education Association:
NIEA is the nation’s most inclusive advocacy organization advancing comprehensive culture-based educational opportunities for American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Formed by Native educators in 1969 to encourage a national discourse on education, NIEA adheres to the organization’s founding principles – to convene educators to explore ways to improve schools and the educational systems serving Native children; to promote the maintenance and continued development of language and cultural programs; and to develop and implement strategies for influencing local, state, and federal policy and decision makers. For more information, visit www.niea.org.