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.”

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