https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/criticism-of-alaska-article-stirs-broader-discussion-GQce6KumvEmbza2KSt45fw

Criticism of Alaska article stirs broader discussion

*****Let´s go broader than this article.****

Manipulation 101

Why would native people want to be put first in line for an injection of something that is #1 experimental, #2 not fully safety tested, #3 has actually been responsible for reported serious adverse reactions and even some deaths, #4 does not stop infection. Because of the history of discrimination and racism, we are persuaded to think that NOW, during this pandemic, the powers that be are actually giving a care to indigenous people. We need to step back a moment and really look at what is being done and how things are spun into a narrative that puts people of color at the head of the line to being harmed.

I will add that one way to motivate people to do something is to play out the scenario that there is a scarcity – also to create the feeling that one group is getting something that others are not. So, you begin to see that this issue of indigenous getting better treatment actually is only a narrative that plays to the pharmaceutical companies´ agenda to persuade people who are reluctant to get the vaccine to race to get the vaccine.

A nurse administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. U.K. health authorities rolled out the first doses of a widely tested and independently reviewed COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, starting a global immunization program that is expected to gain momentum as more serums win approval. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

Joaqlin Estus

Vera Starbard: ‘Any time Native people are perceived to be ‘doing better’ than the dominant group in Alaska, there will absolutely, without fail be a backlash from individuals or large groups about how it’s not fair’

Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Alaska Public Media reporter Nathaniel Herz has done numerous stories on the fight against COVID-19 in Alaska in the past year.

His stories described historical pandemics that decimated Alaska Native populations, and the disproportionately high toll that COVID is taking on Indigenous peoples. He has reported on the tribal health system’s success in vaccinating tribal members despite logistical challenges.

Then last weekend Herz wrote and aired a story headlined: “Eligibility differences between state and tribal health systems frustrate some Alaskans waiting for vaccines.” The story said the Anchorage-based Southcentral Foundation was vaccinating people who work with Alaska Natives and for Native organizations. The story featured critics who saying the Native nonprofit should instead be giving shots to more vulnerable groups no matter what their relationship with Natives.

Nathaniel Herz, Alaska Public Media, covers climate change, environment and government and politics for Alaska’s Energy Desk. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Public Media)
Nathaniel Herz, reporter. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Public Media)

The reaction after the story was aired and then posted on Alaska Public Media’s web page was immediate and on social media dozens of angry responses were posted on Twitter and Facebook. In the sometimes hyperbolic and profanity-laden style of social media, people saw the story as horrible, divisive, super-biased, whiney, colonialist, and reckless.

If Southcentral should be sharing its allotment beyond its clientele, will the same demand be made to the Department of Defense to share its allotment beyond the military, asked one commenter. “Or is the criticism reserved only for the most marginalized in our community?”

The story “feeds into ill will against Natives in an already super racist state,” and non-Natives will use the views expressed in the story as a “justification to their racism” that “feeds into their own victimhood,” read other Tweets.

Vera Starbard, Tlingit and Dena’Ina Athabascan, an author and playwright, wrote in her Writing Raven blog that she was surprised to see what she called, “an absolute hit job piece of poor journalism published with a disgraceful slant toward how the system is failing the Anchorage community,” given the tribal health system’s success in getting people vaccinated.

Vera Starbard, Tlingit/Dena'ina, of Writing Raven, Writer. Editor. Wife. Reluctant Cat Owner. Born in Craig, Alaska. Editor for First Alaskans Magazine, Playwright-in-Residence at Perseverance Theatre through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's National Playwright Residency Program. Writer for the PBS KIDS animated children's program "Molly of Denali."
Vera Starbard, Tlingit/Dena’ina writer, of Writing Raven, writer, editor and playwright.  Anchorage, Alaska (Photo courtesy of Vera Starbard).

“Except it’s not surprising. Any time Native people are perceived to be ‘doing better’ than the dominant group in Alaska, there will absolutely, without fail be a backlash from individuals or large groups about how it’s not fair,” Starbard said.

“Never mind that instead of highlighting the state’s failed responsibility to the Pacific Islander community’s risk, and ask why it was not reaching this community more, this media organization chose to place the blame on an organization that is already serving those outside of its founding responsibility – and seeking to do more,” Starbard said.

Efficiency of distribution

The Alaska Public Media story questioned how Southcentral was distributing vaccines.

“Anchorage’s main tribal health provider is vaccinating employees of its affiliated for-profit company and nonprofit organizations, and their household members, without regard to their race, age or vulnerability,” Herz reported. “That’s frustrating some of the teachers, people with underlying conditions and others enduring an excruciating wait for shots from state government.”

“Southcentral Foundation’s vaccination framework has the effect of skipping over groups that face higher risk levels,” the story read, such as grocery store workers, the elderly and South Pacific Islanders, who are disproportionately affected by COVID.

One reason that Southcentral even had such a choice was its efficiency in distributing vaccines.

The number of doses provided to tribal health organizations is based on the same formula the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses to determine allotments to federal, state, and local governments. CDC considered 15 factors, including preparedness; critical populations; capacity for handling and managing the vaccine; and the number of providers to administer vaccinations.

While federal, state and tribal health systems are all limited by the number of doses allotted to them, the foundation has been able to get categories of people vaccinated more quickly than the state.

It’s had teams calling tribal members to come in for their shots, which it’s dispensing at the rate of 800 per day. By Feb. 1, it had administered more than 10,000 doses.

The foundation’s first priorities were health care workers and Native elders followed by the American Indian and Alaska Native “customer-owners” it serves. Next it vaccinated other employees and customers’ household members. Then it opened appointments to people who work for or with Native people.

Southcentral Foundation had no comment on the Alaska Public Media story.

Like this story? Support our work with a $5 or $10 contribution today. Contribute to the nonprofit Indian Country Today.

Alaska Public Media’s side of the story

Anchorage-based Alaska Public Media combines news stories of its own with those of reporters at public radio stations across Alaska, many of them located in rural communities that are as much as 75 percent Alaska Native. The resulting news shows regularly have Alaska Native issues in the forefront, and has for decades.

Alaska Public Media News Director Lori Townsend, said, “in the 18 years I’ve worked for the [Alaska public radio] network, I can think of no other time that we were accused of racist coverage by the Alaska Native community.”

Herz said the story was meant to prompt a conversation about the foundation’s distribution but erred in its presentation.

“…the story was framed in a way that was inflammatory and hurtful — and particularly to a lot of Native people but to plenty of white and non-Native people [too] — that didn’t allow anyone to engage with its content and with the question that we were trying to raise. It just caused hurt and pain and confusion about why we would do something like this,” Herz said.

Speaking for himself and the two editors who worked with him from concept to completion of the story, Herz said, “we thought we were being sensitive … we didn’t appreciate how sensitive and delicate the conversations around tribal healthcare are, and just sort of how much work and labor and explicating and justifying Indigenous people have to do around their healthcare whenever the subject comes up.

“This was absolutely… a personal and professional and human failure on my part. And I take full responsibility for that,” Herz said.

He said he and the editors “who considered ourselves to be sensitive and connected to the Alaska Native community and compassionate and aware of the sensitivity of these topics… had no sense of how the piece would hurt Alaska Native people, and how it would fail to connect with Alaska Native readers.” Herz said he and his institution are reflecting on the matter and are committed to making sure it doesn’t happen again.

Herz said, “the intensity of the reaction and just all of the different ways that people shared their feelings, I’ve never experienced anything like this in my entire life and it really hurt. But I am really hoping that this whole thing can be in the service of more responsible and complete and sensitive media coverage of Alaska Native people and really important personal lessons for me” and the institution where he works.

He also wrote an open letter of apology.

Townsend said a careful approach, talking through who should be in a story, and taking the time for careful editing is “so incredibly important. And having more diversity in our newsroom is crucial.” Herz said Alaska Public Media had already been taking steps to increase staff diversity.

ICT Phone Logo

Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a long-time Alaska journalist.

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.

Happy New Year -2021

2020 was a very difficult year personally and world-wide. There was some very excellent progress as we kept up the effort to end fracking and oil pipelines. Let 2021 be an even better year. Even in the face of great adversity, we will keep fighting for peace, health, and WATER.

Regarding Covid-19

Native Americans mostly on their own in COVID fight

IHS Pine Ridge Hospital in South Dakota. (Indian Health Service via Twitter)

Mary Annette Pember

In states without mask mandates or other policies, tribes suffer most

Davidica Littlespottedhorse didn’t really feel terribly sick; at first she thought she had the flu or a sinus infection.

Soon, however, she developed a frighteningly painful headache. Almost immediately, her entire family of 10 living together in a three-bedroom home fell ill; nearly everyone complained of similar distinctive headaches.

Littlespottedhorse’s son-in-law Carl tested positive for COVID-19 a week earlier. Despite their best efforts at sanitizing the house and ensuring Carl quarantined in his room, the virus quickly spread through the household, affecting members who range in age from 7 months to 47 years old.

The family quickly went to the Indian Health Service hospital in the town of Pine Ridge to get tested; the nurse, however, told Littlespottedhorse that since she’d been tested a week ago, she’d have to wait another month to get retested.

“I told her I’m symptomatic and need to be tested again. Finally I contacted the CEO of the hospital, and he intervened,” she said.

The adults in the home all tested positive. Hospital staff told Littlespottedhorse the babies, all under 2 years, didn’t need to be tested; the family should just assume they are positive and treat their symptoms as needed.

“If I hadn’t insisted on getting us tested, we might have thought we just had the flu and gone on as usual; we could be out there infecting people,” she said.

Davidica Little Spotted Horse of Pine Ridge. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember)
Davidica Little Spotted Horse of Pine Ridge. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember)

Littlespottedhorse, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, wondered if that might be the case with others in the community.

“It seems like we have a bad flu. We’re not completely debilitated, although my daughter who is 7 months pregnant is feeling really bad,” she said.

In response to an email regarding testing protocols at the Pine Ridge hospital and other facilities, Indian Health Service public affairs staff wrote, “Patients who have had a previous negative COVID-19 may be retested if they start to have symptoms of COVID-19.”

According to the FAQ pages for both the Indian Health Service and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, however, “IHS facilities generally have access to testing for individuals who may have COVID-19; however, there are nationwide shortages of supplies that may temporarily affect the availability of COVID-19 testing at a particular location.”

(Previous story: ‘Level of suffering is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before’)

The Indian Health Service has received over $2.4 billion in new funding to provide resources that will support a wide range of COVID-19 activities, according to an agency news release.

The agency has also expanded to deliver 470 rapid point of care analyzers to 342 federal, tribal and urban sites, according to releases from the Indian Health Service and Health and Human Services. But for an agency that is so chronically underfunded and staffed, a one-time infusion of cash may not be enough to shore up an inadequate infrastructure.

Littlespottedhorse and her family are now quarantined in their home in Oglala, on the vast Pine Ridge reservation, where grocery stores are few; Walmart and other large shopping centers are located hours away, in Rapid City and Nebraska.

Littlespottedhorse’s household is dependent on deliveries of food and cleaning supplies from family members and the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Covid Task Force. Her situation is not unique to Pine Ridge.

Mercedese Littlespottedhorse, daughter of Davidica Littlespottedhorse, stays hydrated while fighting the COVID-19 virus. (Photo courtesy of Davidica Littlespottedhorse)
Mercedese Littlespottedhorse, daughter of Davidica Littlespottedhorse, stays hydrated while fighting the COVID-19 virus. (Photo courtesy of Davidica Littlespottedhorse)

Housing is scarce on most reservations, and poverty rates are high so more than one family often occupies a single home, making Native people here especially vulnerable. Underlying poverty-related health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, asthma and high blood pressure add to the risk of developing serious complications, noted South Dakota Rep. Peri Pourier during an interview with MSNBC.

Pourier and Sen. Red Dawn Foster, both Lakota, recently sent a letter to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem asking her to impose a mask requirement.

“This letter is written with grave urgency to appeal to your rational sensibilities as a person, looking above and beyond political party lines and political obstructions,” they wrote.

“We write to implore you to try and think of those who are vulnerable and need our protection, not to get bogged down in petty politics.”

Maggie Seidel, senior advisor and policy director for Noem wrote in an email response to the legislators’ letter, “I think our answer has been well covered.”

“Mask mandates don’t work — they haven’t worked anywhere in the world. We respectfully request the news media cover the facts,” Seidel wrote to Forum News Service regarding Pourier and Foster’s letter.

To date, Noem has declined to enact any COVID-related restrictions and continues to downplay the seriousness of the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, South Dakota is among the worst states in the country for measures of per capita deaths and hospitalizations.

Both South and North Dakota are near capacity at all hospitals. In general, rural hospitals in the U.S. are not equipped to handle critically ill patients, according to the Wall Street Journal. The pandemic has laid bare these shortcomings for the entire population.

Native Americans on remote reservations in the Dakotas are effectively on their own.

As they have for generations, however, Native people are organizing to provide care for themselves and their families.

No time off since June

“It’s unreal how busy we’ve been,” said Patrick Swallow, public health investigator for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Swallow works with two other investigators and eight contact tracers who notify tribal members who have tested positive for the virus and determine how many others with whom they may have been in contact.

“We first try to contact positive cases by phone, but many times their phone numbers have been disconnected; we’re finding a lot of people have prepaid phones and can’t afford to pay the bill,” Swallow said.

Investigators must then drive to peoples’ homes, don protective gear and notify them in person.

“I’ve been putting on over 300 miles a day driving around; we haven’t had a day off since June,” he said.

“We get anywhere between 30 and 50 cases per day; it’s been hard on us, but everybody on our team is so dedicated. Thankfully, none of our staff has gotten sick so far.”

Predicting the virus’ spread and progression has been almost impossible, according to Swallow.

“In some homes, one person gets sick and then everyone gets infected. In others, only one person gets sick,” Swallow said. “As soon as we think we have this thing figured out, it just changes.”

Swallow speculates that there are likely far more cases of the virus that have gone untested because some patients have no symptoms.

“You can be running around and not even know you have it and still be contagious,” he said.

Unfortunately, the many funerals now taking place for those who have died from the virus are contributing to its spread, according to Swallow.

“It’s a real touchy subject; how do you tell people they can’t have a funeral or wake if their loved one passes away?”

Littlespottedhorse and her family are recovering. Although she has a number of underlying health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, she is beginning to feel better.

Eschewing over-the-counter medications, Littlespottedhorse relies instead on traditional herbal remedies. She credits her teas and supplements with her family’s recovery.

“Thankfully the fevers have passed for everyone. We’re staying true to only herbal remedies, being gentle with ourselves, eating healthy and staying hydrated. We smudge and pray every day,” she said.

“This healing is definitely a process. Luckily our family and the tribe have been stepping up to help us; I’m humbled and eternally grateful to have such compassionate, generous people in our lives. Pilamiya Tunkasila for courage and patience.”

ICT Smartphone Logo for ARTICLES

Mary Annette Pember, citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is national correspondent for Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @mapember. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pember loves film, books and jingle dress dancing.

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.

The Arts in the Time of Covid

I have used the virtual world for education long before the lock-down restrictions of Covid-19. I invite everyone to visit the educational site – the Wounded Knee Memorial at:

Seaside Dreams in Kitley: grid.kitely.com:8002:Seaside Dreams

First, go to: https://www.kitely.com/ sign up for free and then go to the world, Seaside Dreams. Upon arriving you will see a teleporter to the memorial.

¨Please visit my other world: Seaside Dreams for the interactive Wounded Knee Memorial. This memorial commemorates the massacre December 29th, 1890 in which 300+ Lakota died in a unjust and horrific way by the U,S, Calvary. Please come explore and learn how these past events connect to current events. You will find the teleporter to the memorial upon arriving at Seaside Dreams. hop://grid.kitely.com:8002/Seaside%20Dreams/218/121/22

There was a special discussion and interview: See it here: https://virtualoutworlding.blogspot.com/2018/02/2018-edu-massacre-at-wounded-knee.html¨

Because of Covid-19 we are restricted in attending large gatherings. You will also find at Kitely the world Gallery No. 8 and Town Center.

grid.kitely.com:8002:Gallery No.8 and Town Center

There we host an annual Native American Film festival. Upon arrival you will find information about the festival and where you can find the latest film streaming.

This year´s festival must be virtual and I encourage everyone to support the arts and film makers everywhere you can. The arts are severely affected. Red Nation Film Festival | 2020 Films

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.”

ICT Phone Logo

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.

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
###
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.

Regarding Covid-19 in Standing Rock

Hello again from the front lines! I’m happy to report that, thanks largely to your support, things are much quieter here than you might expect. We’re at the tail end of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the largest gathering without protection in our country since the pandemic began. But because of Cheyenne River’s lawsuit against the Trump administration, and because you’ve sent 28,000 emails to SD Governor Kristi Noem and federal agencies, our COVID checkpoints are still up and running. They’re keeping the bikers — and the contagion they could have delivered — outside our borders!

Thank goodness, because COVID-19 is bad enough here as it is. With nearly 200 confirmed cases at Pine Ridge, about 100 at Cheyenne River, and a death at Standing Rock, the Lakota People’s Law Project is spending tens of thousands on personal protective equipment, cots, tipis, stoves, and other supplies to help with the quarantine effort. But we still need more help, right now. Can you pitch in today to ensure we have what we need to keep our communities safe?

Checkpoints Video
In my new video, you’ll hear about how our checkpoints keep our tribal nations safer, even as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally descends and the pandemic grows.

Our combination of government advocacy and grassroots organizing is having an impact. And we need to keep it up, since we can’t allow the Oceti Sakowin to suffer the way our Diné relatives — the Navajo Nation — have, so tragically. Having 250,000 bikers descend on our homelands, most not wearing masks, just makes our situation more difficult.

As we await further action from Congress on COVID-19, we’ll remain vigilant in the face of the abject bullying and incompetence of this White House. Please keep eyes out next week for our joint message with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in support of the Native American Voting Rights Act. We will need every available Indigenous voice to be heard this November.

Wopila tanka — my sincere thanks for your solidarity throughout this crisis!

Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

P.S. Please contribute what you can today to help Lakota Law continue funding COVID relief on tribal nations in South Dakota. Your gifts now provide real, in-the-trenches materials that are limiting coronavirus spread and saving lives. Thank you so much!

 

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.

Covid-19 Stats in Indian Country

Dear Reader,

How many? It’s a question that journalists often ask. How many people across Indian Country have been infected with COVID-19? And, sadly, how many have died?

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye did not like the answers she was getting. The Indian Health Service’s data collection is limited. Some tribes release information. Others don’t.

So Bennett-Begaye set out to create her own which turned into Indian Country Today’s COVID-19 Tracker with an interactive map and a way to anonymously submit cases to track. It’s not perfect. But it’s a start and even today is the only national database that collects mortality data on Natives and COVID-19. The research published has already been cited in academic studies and several universities have asked to contribute and make the information even more useful.

This is the kind of independent journalism that you can help support. Can we count on you to make a one-time contribution today? Or how about a monthly recurring donation? Your dollars support the reporting that goes into journalism you won’t find anywhere else.

Thank you for your support,

Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock
Editor, Indian Country Today
Twitter: @TrahantReports
 

Water

https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/group-helps-fill-gaps-in-navajo-nation-water-access-wPob9SSX30Ck3o8wAgmtLw

 

Cronkite News

‘We have to be able to lift each other up; that’s the only way we’re going to make it out of this together’
McKenzie Allen-Charmley
Luce Foundation: Southwest Stories Fellowship

PHOENIX – By now, you’ve probably heard it more times than you can count: One of the simplest ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection is to wash your hands.

But for the nearly one in three Navajo Nation households without indoor plumbing, that’s easier said than done.

“People (here) call it a luxury to be able to have running water,” said Yolanda Tso, a Navajo Nation member and community advocate. “I don’t really believe that should be considered a luxury in this day and age, especially in this country.”

Tso founded WATERED – Water Acquisition Team for Every Resident & Every Diné – to help fill gaps in water access on the reservation, which this summer eclipsed New York in per-capita coronavirus infection rates, according to CNN. She started raising funds to purchase hand-washing stations for families in need in April and began deliveries in June.

Yolanda Tso, founder of the WATERED, demonstrates how to use the hand-washing stations that the organization has provided to more than 110 households in the Navajo Nation by early this summer. (Photo courtesy of Yolanda Tso)
Yolanda Tso, founder of the WATERED, demonstrates how to use the hand-washing stations that the organization had provided to more than 110 households on the Navajo reservation by early this summer. (Photo courtesy of Yolanda Tso)

Tso said she knows her small-scale, donation-dependent operation can’t fix the broader infrastructure problems on Navajo land. In 2018, the Indian Health Service told Congress the tribe had more than $450 million in unfunded water needs.

But she hopes it can help even the playing field for a population infectious disease specialists say has a higher-than-average risk of contracting COVID-19.

“At this moment, it’s going to help people be able to accomplish those goals of protecting themselves,” Tso said.

Impact of federal relief funding unclear

As of Aug. 4, the Navajo Health Department had reported 9,156 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a population of about 175,000 – more infections per 100,000 residents than any state in the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The reservation also had a death toll higher than that of 16 U.S. states, with 463 residents lost to the disease by that date.

Navajo officials have proposed spending about $300 million of the $714 million they’ve received in federal CARES Act funding on water infrastructure to help slow the spread of COVID-19, according to a release from Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez’s office.

But restrictions require officials to spend CARES Act funds by the end of the calendar year, and Navajo officials say it likely would take at least two years to get a substantial water infrastructure project off the ground.

Even if the federal government grants the spending extension Navajo leaders have requested, the extra time would not address the immediate needs of families without running water.

That’s where Tso and other Navajo volunteers come in.

WATERED’s team has delivered hand-washing stations to more than 110 households on the 27,000-square-mile reservation as a stopgap measure, Tso said.

Yolanda Tso (left, in blue) and volunteers unload hand-washing stations for Navajo Nation residents from a delivery truck donated by the moving company State 48. (Photo courtesy of Yolanda Tso)
Yolanda Tso (left, in blue) and volunteers unload hand-washing stations for Navajo Nation residents from a delivery truck donated by the moving company State 48. (Photo courtesy of Yolanda Tso)

The stations include reusable 5-gallon jugs and 5-gallon buckets for catching used water, and WATERED provides liquid hand soap, toilet paper, paper towels and disinfectant.

The group relies on donations to cover supply and travel costs, Tso said, and some local companies have made in-kind contributions to increase WATERED’s efficiency and reach. The Glendale moving company State 48, for instance, provided a delivery truck to transport of the stations.

These families “don’t have the ability to get a main source of stopping the spread of COVID as easily as most other communities,” State 48 owner Amanda Lindsey said.

Pandemic prompts ‘important’ access conversation

Annie Lascoe of DigDeep, a nonprofit that works to address water needs on the reservation and elsewhere, described water access as a “deeply entrenched racial justice issue.”

White households are 19 times as likely as Native households to have running water, according to a 2019 report from DigDeep and the Water Alliance that argued rural and tribal community members “understand the historical barriers to access better than outsiders.”

“When we’re looking at Indigenous peoples’ rights, Indigenous communities around the world are the ones that are preserving all of our natural resources,” Lascoe said, citing the Navajo philosophy of “tó éí ííná” – “water is life.”

Yet Native populations are “the No. 1 communities that are also deeply impacted by entrenched systems that have robbed them of access to those resources,” she said.

Indeed, the U.S. government has repeatedly left tribal officials out of key water-policy negotiations, despite the 1908 Winters Doctrine promising federally reserved water rights to Indigenous communities.

Navajo leaders in recent years have pursued water settlements at the state level in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, but the Navajo Department of Water Resources continues to point to a “lack of adequate domestic and municipal water” as one of the nation’s biggest challenges.

Tso said she would “would never choose a pandemic to have these conversations,” but “it’s so important for people to understand that even though we live in 2020 and we think of America as this superpower, we still have people who are living in conditions that are subpar.”

“We have to be able to lift each other up,” she said. “That’s the only way we’re going to make it out of this together.”

Cronkite logo bridge

This story is made possible through a partnership between the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University, with the support of the Henry Luce Foundation.