While COVID-19 continues to impact all of Indian Country, tribes are still fighting to protect their land and water rights across the country. On Tuesday the National Congress of American Indians hosted a webinar with five tribal nations on “Protecting Tribal Lands and Sacred Places: Current Threats across Indian Country,” and yesterday the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing to receive testimony on seven bills that include water and land rights impacting a number of tribes.
Meanwhile, Kansas Representative Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) helped secure key provisions to improve tribal infrastructure in new legislation proposed by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The “Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act” (INVEST) would bring total transportation spending to $1 billion per year, predominantly supporting rural areas.
The Quinault Indian Nation, Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe filed suit in Washington against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The tribes were joined by environmental and labor organizations in the suit asking federal courts in Washington state and Arizona to set aside the Trump administration’s Navigable Water Protection Rule, which narrows the scope of waterways that fall under federal protection, and reinstate the Clean Water Rule.
Native youth representing tribes from across the continent delivered a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to members of Congress calling for additional funding to be sent to Indian Country in the next relief package – specifically urging the Senate to provide the $20 billion to tribal governments as included in the HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives. The petition was organized by Next100, a startup think tank, and the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute.
Charges of resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer against Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam were dropped at a hearing after the release of police dashcam footage that showed an officer tackling and punching him. The dashcam footage shows the interaction, which started over an expired license plate, escalating quickly as additional officers were called to the scene.
“If I ask for [the officers involved] to be charged or fired, what would that accomplish?” Chief Adam said, saying he wants to see broader reforms: “Make changes that are necessary.”
In 2018 a New Mexico court ruling that ordered the state to address inequality in funding and academic opportunities for low-income, Native American, and Hispanic students – 80% of New Mexico’s students. The suit was initially filed against current New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s predecessor, Governor Lujan Grisham’s administration filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the state has increased funding and “an educational transformation should be overseen by the education professionals of the Public Education Department and the state Legislature, not a court.” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez recently called on Governor Lujan Grisham to end her administration’s efforts to fight the court ruling, noting that “the court decision states that the state failed to abide by the New Mexico Indian Education Act, and this is an issue we cannot ignore.” He continued and said, “our students deserve an educational environment that prioritizes their culture and unique needs,” President Nez said. “It is time for our Native students to have the same opportunities as other students.”
The Cocopah Indian Tribe is mourning the loss of Vice Chairman J. Deal Begay, Jr., age 53, who passed away from COVID-19 in the early hours of Sunday, June 21, in Yuma, Arizona.
Keep reading for a full news update.
Native Youth Urge Congress To Send More COVID-19 Relief To Indian Country
Red Lake Nation News, June 25
Today, Native youth delivered a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to members of Congress urging lawmakers to send needed emergency aid to Indian Country in the next COVID-19 relief package. The petition, organized by Next100 and the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, urges the Senate to provide $20 billion for tribal governments and entities, as included in the HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives, and to ensure tribal governments and entities can actually access the necessary funds in a timely manner at this critical time.
Cocopah Indian Tribe Vice Chairman J. Deal Begay, Jr. Passes Away From COVID-19
Native News Online, June 24
The Cocopah Indian Tribe is mourning the loss of Vice Chairman J. Deal Begay, Jr., who passed away in the early hours of Sunday, June 21, at the Yuma Regional Medical Center in Yuma, Ariz. Vice Chairman Begay was 53. “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Cocopah Tribal Vice-Chairman J. Deal Begay Jr. We are shocked and devastated with this unexpected news,” Cocopah Tribe Chairwoman Sherry Cordova said in a statement released on Monday. “The Cocopah Tribe has lost a great fighter for the Cocopah people.”
Tuesday Navajo Nation COVID-19 Update: 43 New Cases And One More Death
Native News Online, June 24
On Tuesday, the Navajo Department of Health, in coordination with the Navajo Epidemiology Center and the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, reported 43 new COVID-19 positive cases for the Navajo Nation and one new death. The total number of deaths is 336 as of Tuesday. Reports from 11 health care facilities on and near the Navajo Nation indicate that approximately 3,754 individuals recovered from COVID-19, with one health care facility report still pending. 50,185 people have been tested for COVID-19. The total number of COVID-19 positive cases for the Navajo Nation is 7,088.
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, June 24
Tribe In South Dakota Seeks Court Ruling Over Standoff On Blocking Virus
New York Times, Mark Walker, June 24
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe set up checkpoints to limit the spread of the coronavirus. After the state objected, the White House got involved. Now the tribe has asked a federal judge to intervene. Plagued with an inadequate health care system and fearful of what could happen if the coronavirus spread across its tribal lands in South Dakota, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe took emergency steps 12 weeks ago, setting up checkpoints along roads into its reservation to question travelers about their health and their travel plans.
Kansas Rep. Davids Secures Key Provisions For Tribes In Legislation To Improve Nation’s Infrastructure
Native News Online, June 24
Representative Sharice Davids (D-KS), one of the first American Indian women elected to Congress, has helped secure key provisions to improve tribal infrastructure in new legislation proposed by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. H.R. 2, the “Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act’’ (INVEST in America Act) would boost total transportation spending to $1 billion per year and would predominantly support rural areas. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Peter A. Defazio (D-OR), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Tribe Sues Trump Administration Over Checkpoint Interference
Indian Country Today, Dalton Walker, June 24
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is suing President Donald Trump and 10 other federal officials, saying they abused their authority and threatened the tribe’s law enforcement funding and coronavirus relief money over its highway checkpoints. The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., accuses White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows of “threatening the security” of coronavirus funding recently allocated to the tribe if used for the checkpoints. Meadows made the remark during a June 9 telephone conversation with Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier, according to the suit.
Tribes, Advocacy Groups Sue EPA Over Rule Narrowing Scope Of Federal Waterway Protections
Indiana Environmental Reporter, Enrique Saenz, June 24
A group of Native American tribes and labor and environmental groups filed suit to stop the implementation of a new federal rule that limits the scope of waterways under federal protection. The Quinault Indian Nation, Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and Pascua Yaqui Tribe filed suit in Washington state against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The tribes were joined in their suit by the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Idaho Conservation League and Mi Familia Vota, a national Latino civic engagement organization.
Senate Committee On Indian Affairs To Hold Legislative Hearing To Receive Testimony On 7 Bills
Native News Online, June 24
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will hold a legislative hearing on seven bills that deal with water, land and patrimony of tribal objects on Wednesday, June 24, 2020 at 2:30 p.m. (EDT). Testimony will be heard on S. 2165, the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony Act of 2019; S. 2716, A bill to amend the Grand Ronde Reservation Act, and for other purposes; S. 2912, the Blackwater Trading Post Land Transfer Act; S. 3019, the Montana Water Rights Protection Act; S. 3044, the Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act of 2019; S. 3099, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2019; and S. 3100, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act of 2019.
A Crisis Within A Crisis Is Nothing New’
Indian Country Today, Kolby KickingWoman, June 24
Tribes across the country are fighting battles on multiple fronts on any given day. Take today. Tribal leaders are working to keep their citizens safe from the coronavirus while juggling attacks on tribal sovereignty. The National Congress of American Indians hosted a webinar Tuesday on “Protecting Tribal Land and Sacred Places: Current Threats Across Indian Country.” Five tribal chairmen highlighted ongoing challenges ranging from the destruction of sacred sites to affronts on tribal sovereignty and encroachment of tribal lands. Even though the obstacles facing every tribe may be different, the tribal leaders said Indian Country needs to stand together on a unified front.
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe V. Donald J. Trump
Indianz.com, June 24
Citing “unlawful threats” to its sovereignty, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe on June 23, 2020, sued President Donald J. Trump and other members of his administration in connection with coronavirus checkpoints on the reservation. “Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe files this Complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief against the Defendants Donald J. Trump, President of the United States … and other Department of Interior officials for threatening to take unlawful actions to shut down the Tribe’s Health Safety Checkpoints, including threats of reassumption of control of the Tribe’s law enforcement program, in the midst of the unprecedented national COVID-19 public health crisis,” the 38-page complaint reads.
Charges Dropped Against Aboriginal Chief In Violent Arrest
AP News, Rob Gillies, June 23
Charges against Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam were dropped Wednesday at a hearing that followed the release of police dashcam video that showed an officer tackling and punching him. Alberta Justice spokeswoman Carla Jones said in a statement the prosecution reassessed the available evidence and withdrew the charges of resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer against Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. The action came at a provincial court hearing in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Royal Canadian Mounted Police dashcam footage showing Adam’s arrest, made public as part of a defense application to drop the charges, caused widespread public outrage and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it “shocking.”
State Helps Towns And Tribes Qualify For COVID-19 Disaster Relief
Press Herald, June 23
Maine plans to use $35 million of its coronavirus relief funds to help towns and tribes qualify for federal COVID-19 disaster relief. Gov. Janet Mills announced Monday that towns and tribes will be able to use this money, which is part of Maine’s $1.25 billion in funding from the U.S. CARES Act, as the local 10 percent match required to qualify for federal disaster aid from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Municipalities across Maine are on the frontline of battling COVID-19,” Mills said in a statement. “With this action, I hope state government can somewhat ease the financial burden that budget-crunched municipalities face as we continue to confront this pandemic together.”
Multicultural Media Correspondents To Recognize Native News Online Publisher As “Unsung Hero”
Native News Online, June 24
Native News Online Editor and Publisher Levi Rickert will be honored tonight by the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association for his work covering Indian Country over the past decade. Rickert, who founded Native News Online in 2011 to celebrate Native voices and change the narrative about Indian Country, will be honored as an “Unsung Hero” during a virtual event to highlight the media’s role in giving voice to marginalized communities. A tribal citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Rickert has covered Indian Country from over 50 American Indian reservations, Alcatraz Island, Standing Rock and Washington, D.C.
NANA-Owned Federal Contractor Awarded $70.2 Million Air Force Contract
Native News Online, June 24
A wholly owned subsidiary of Akima, a holding company for federal and contracting businesses owned by the Alaska Native Corporation NANA, has secured a five-year $70.2 million military contract. Under the five-year U.S. Air Force contract, Akima’s Colorado Springs, Colo.-based RiverTech LLC company will take on non-flying duties to reduce the workload for the branch’s Mobility Air Forces flying personnel. RiverTech will provide the support at 14 Air Force Bases nationwide. The company is a U.S. Small Business Administration 8(a) certified minority contractor, which provides the company access to federal sole-source contracts.
Tribal Colleges’ Major Shift In A COVID-19 World
Indian Country Today, June 24
As colleges and universities across the country struggle to figure out how to bring back students, tribal colleges are doing the same thing. The global COVID-19 pandemic is causing many to rethink how the upcoming fall semester will look for students. Indian Country Today talks with Carrie Billy, Navajo, the president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, also known as AIHEC, to discuss the effects of the pandemic and the changes it’s had and could continue to have on Indian education.
Navajo Officer’s Funeral Set For Thursday
Indian Country Today, Kalle Benallie, June 24
Funeral details for Officer Micheal Lee have been released. Lee, Navajo, died Friday, marking the Navajo Police Department’s first law enforcement death as a result of COVID-19. He served nearly 30 years in the department and is survived by his wife and children. His funeral is set for Thursday at 10 a.m. local time in Chinle, Arizona, at the Potter House Christian Center. The department said it is working with the family and venue to ensure safety protocols and to livestream the service for the public. “Planning a service under these circumstances is difficult, but with the heart Officer Lee had for his family and community, he would want everyone to be safe,” Chief Phillip Francisco said.
South Dakota Checkpoints: Key Events
Indian Country Today, Dalton Walker, June 24
The tribal checkpoints issue in South Dakota has sparked a lawsuit by the tribe. On Tuesday, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and 10 other federal officials, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney. Since April, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribes have maintained highway checkpoints on state and federal roads in an effort to ward off the coronavirus pandemic. The move hasn’t gone over well with South Dakota’s top elected official. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem threatened legal action in early May, then asked Trump to intervene.
‘The Elizabeth Warren Of The Sci-Fi Set’: Author Faces Criticism For Repeated Use Of Tribal Traditions
Indianz.com, Acee Agoyo, June 24
A popular author is facing renewed accusations of cultural appropriation after repeatedly using tribal stories and traditions without consent. In her latest work, Rebecca Roanhorse describes herself as a being Native American from Ohkay Owingeh, one of the 19 Pueblo communities in New Mexico. But she is not a citizen of the federally recognized Indian nation, whose homelands are located in the northern part of the state. Additionally, no one under the name Roanhorse, her married name, or that of Parish, her maiden name, is a citizen, Indianz.Com confirmed. And in public settings, she has told people she has never lived in the tribal community.
Navajo Nation President: New Mexico Still Failing Students
AP News, Cedar Attanasio, June 23
The leader of one of the largest tribes in the U.S. called Wednesday for the governor of New Mexico to end efforts to fight a court ruling that orders improvements in education for members of his tribe and other vulnerable groups. The comments from Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez came ahead of a court hearing next week in which Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will ask a state judge to dismiss a consolidated lawsuit representing Native American and Hispanic plaintiffs. “The lawsuit needs to be pursued so Native students can be provided adequate education programs and services necessary to learn and thrive,” Nez said. “Our students deserve an educational environment that prioritizes their culture and unique needs. It is time for our Native students to have the same opportunities as other students.”
Bordering On Desperation
Searchlight New Mexico, J. Weston Phippen, June 23
At the end of the Howard Johnson Hotel’s orange and white hallway, Dr. Caleb Lauber paused by a mirror as if he were lost. The mirror was an invention of the crafty security guards who’d leaned it against a chair, allowing them to quickly see around the corner in case any guests, all COVID-19 positive, should leave their rooms. Lauber worked 60, sometimes 80-hour weeks, caring for the homeless that Gallup had arranged to shelter at local hotels. He’d seen 500 of these patients in the past month. And now his memory was failing. “What’s the room number?” he asked his nursing assistant for the second time as they rounded the corner.