In other words: People are jealous of the Indian health system.
This is Trahant Reports.
There is a lot of background to the roll out of coronavirus vaccines in Indian Country. The pandemic is still lethal. The rates of infection in Indian Country are significantly higher than in other communities. A new study by the Urban Indian Health Institute points out the incidence rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives is 3.5 times higher than that of non-Hispanic Whites and the mortality rate is 1.8 times higher. The reasons go far beyond this pandemic: Chronic diseases, crowded housing, the lack of clean water and healthy foods as well as an underfunded Indian health system.
But tribal governments were far more inclined to implement public health orders, including lock downs and mask requirements.
The thing is tribal governments, unlike their state counterparts, already have a culture of public health.
One clear reason is that the Indian health system is just that, a system. There are mechanics in place to distribute vaccines efficiently to a population. That’s something that is missing from most of the U.S health system where doctors and hospitals are scattered about without any real logic.
But Indian Country is different. The Indian health system — a combination of federal clinics and hospitals, plus those run by tribes and nonprofits — is a system serving a distinct population and so a distribution plan could be properly executed.
The Cherokee Nation announced that it passed its first 10,000 vaccinations, including a priority for first-language Cherokee speakers, and it’s now adding Phase 2 priority patients to its distribution. The Navajo Nation lifted its weekend lockdowns so that more people can take the shot. Already more than 40,000 have received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. And in Alaska more than 30 percent of all vaccines have been administered through the Alaska Native health system.
Sovereignty in action.
Let’s look at the numbers behind any cabinet appointment.
This is Trahant Reports.
The appointment of Rep. Deb Haaland — or any tribal citizen — to a presidential cabinet would make history. Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, would be the first Native American to operate a cabinet level agency.
Vice President Charles Curtis, Kaw, is the only tribal citizen to ever serve in a presidential cabinet, but he did not run an agency. Nor did he do much. He was rarely consulted. Attended only a few cabinet meetings and he did little to influence policy.
Haaland would be the first Native American to serve in the cabinet as an agency head, running the Interior department.
There have been roughly 750 cabinet appointments from 45 presidents.
The math here: One cabinet appointment out of 750 equals 0.133333333333 percent.
Bad. But extrapolate that beyond the cabinet, across government and the daunting nature of this representation is clear. There are 4,000 jobs that will be appointed by the next president. To reach parity with the population, it would require at least 80 such appointments.
There are zero Native Americans in the United States Senate. In the history of the country there have only been four, all men.
The people’s House where Haaland now serves has better numbers. There will be four members in the next Congress, or 0.91954022988506 perc ent. Since the Congress first began there have been 10,363 members since 1789 or 0.16404516066776 percent.
More numbers. There are currently 870 authorized judges; nine on the Supreme Court, 179 on courts of appeals, 673 for the district courts and nine on the Court of International Trade. There are two tribal citizens serving as district court judges. Or 0.22988505747126 percent. In the history of the country there have been three Native Americans serving as district court judges.
At the Interior Department, the agency responsible for the relationship between the government of the United States and tribal governments, there have been 53 secretaries. The math here is easy. Zero from 53 is still zero.
There was at least one candidate for the Interior before Haaland. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s name was floated to George Bush. Campbell is Northern Cheyenne. As then Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colorado, wrote about Campbell’s qualifications. “As you know, his work in Congress included time as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, and he did extensive work on issues important to the West such as water, forestry, public land management and resource development.” Bush picked Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.
And Rep. Ben Reifel, R-South Dakota, in another era might have been considered. He took a lame duck appointment as commissioner of Indian affairs under Nixon, serving just a few months. Or even Brig. Gen. Ely Parker, Seneca, who also was commissioner of Indian affairs had to resign his rank in the military in order to take the Indian affairs post.
Then that was another time. At least that’s what we are told.
I am Mark Trahant.
Should Congress also consider the Navajo Nation for statehood?
This is Trahant Reports.
Recently Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, told MSNBC that he’d “love to make” both Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico states. This could happen should Democrats win the election (and especially if there is a sweep of the House, Senate and White House).
The state of Navajo has been an idea that surfaces from time to time. And the idea of an Indigenous state has a rich history in the United States as well as around the world.
Statehood will not fix the problems facing the Navajo Nation but it would do two things: Add representation in Congress and open up funding.
We’re talking about two U.S. Senators and at least one member of the House.
The federal government has a different formula for how to distribute money to states than it does for tribal governments. So much so that federal dollars are the single largest share of every state budget (averaging about a third of all the money coming in). Nearly one out of every five dollars spent by Congress is shipped to states.
Some states do better than others.
New Mexico is at the top of the list. The Brookings Institute estimates the “transfer of payments” between the federal government and that state reach more than $3,500 per person. If that same formula applied to the Navajo Nation, the total funding would be around $600 million per year. (As a comparison the emergency funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was $714 million. But that was a one time funding source (and the most ever spent on Indian Country).
There is no guarantee that a Navajo state would receive that much. But even if the state with the lowest percentage of federal transfers is used as a base number, it would still exceed $340 million a year. (Then so much of federal spending is based on Census data, including poverty levels. So a Navajo state is likely to be on the higher side of that equation).
There is an interesting history here. Congress considered the state of Sequoyah more than a century ago in what is now eastern Oklahoma.
There are also international examples ranging from Nunavut in Canada to Greenland.
There is also a question of representation. The territories of the United States, such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (have marginal representation in Congress … a House delegate that can serve in committees but not vote). And even that is not equitable: The delegate that represents the Northern Mariana Islands with a constituency of about 55,000 people, less than a third of the population of the Navajo Nation.
A delegate in Congress does not go far enough for former Navajo Attorney General Ethel Branch. She told me that would only be marginally helpful, you need people in Congress that can introduce legislation and carry that to the finish line.
I am Mark Trahant.