Then after the nation saw firsthand the injustice of George Floyd and so many others like him, that bureaucratic patience expired. People wanted action.
It’s even hard to keep up with the news because it’s happening so fast.
In the past few days, President Donald Trump (who does not favor changing the story at all) has called for new federal enforcement powers to protect monuments and statues. He practically looks out his window at Andrew Jackson, one of those statues that almost came down. On Saturday four men were charged with felonies in connection with that act.
But the president is in the minority.
The Mississippi legislature over the weekend said it’s time to retire the Confederate battle flag from the state flag.
And in Orange County, California, there is a new call to rename the airport and remove a statue of its namesake, the actor John Wayne. In the movies Wayne was often the cowboy, Indian killer. In real life he was public about his racism. He told Playboy he believed in white supremacy and said it was not wrong to take this “great country away” from Indians. Wayne said: “There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly were trying to keep it for themselves.”
Last week a coalition of business sponsors, including Nike and Pepsi, made the case for changing the Washington team name. According to MarketingDaily, sponsorship and spending on the NFL and its 32 teams exceeded $1.47 billion last season.
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looks at how that data is producing winners and losers in Indian Country. The bottom line is that Housing data is “clearly not reflective of tribal citizens or tribal needs,” says the study by researchers Randall K.Q. Akee, Eric C. Henson, Miriam R. Jorgensen and Joseph P. Kalt. The housing formula “produces arbitrary and capricious allocations of CARES Act funds across tribes.”
The better alternative: Use tribal enrollment data. The study said: “the case is strong that an appropriate allocation rule would employ the current tribal enrollment figures submitted by tribes to the Treasury Department in mid‐April.”
Some of that data was leaked and that means there is a public test that can track both the formula and the fairness of that allocation.
And, as the study points out, this creates an “inequity” because some tribes are under-represented in the funding while others come out ahead. This creates “conditions that are ripe for extensive and intensive challenges and even litigation.”
One lesson from the pandemic. Indian Country needs a better way to collect and maintain data. We need a better gauge of what we have and what’s needed. Data is much more than a measurement; it’s a method of setting priorities.
Then this is not new. Think about how data collection has always been a part of the people’s story. We counted on buffalo robes, on belts, or in carvings. The data always has helped tell a larger story.
Fifty years ago an unknown writer published an “Indian manifesto.” The book was “Custer Died For Your Sins” by Vine Deloria Jr.
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Custer Died For Your Sins was a manifesto, a best-seller, and a banned book (a trifecta).
So much literature back then went something like this: Once there was a great chief — say, Chief Joseph — who led his people past danger and outmaneuvered a powerful U.S. Army. But instead of a climactic victory, Chief Joseph almost reached Canada. Almost.
The Nez Perce people almost won. And the American Indian leader was almost great.
Boil it down, story after story, and the condensed version of Native history was reduced to an “almost” narrative.
American Indians were included in America’s master narrative only in the context of failure.
But Custer Died for Your Sins took that old, flat American Indian history and crumpled it until the dimensions were recognizable and honest.
“Most books about Indians cover some abstract and esoteric topic of the last century,” Deloria wrote. “Contemporary books are predominately by whites trying to solve the ‘Indian problem.’ Between the two extremes lives a dynamic people in a social structure of their own to be freed from cultural expression.”
And he freed a lot of cultural expression.
That included the radical idea that “one of the best ways to understand a people is to know what makes them laugh. Laughter encompasses the limits of the soul. In humor, life is redefined and accepted.”
Here was a book about American thought, policy, and history that devoted an entire chapter to humor, words that should have destroyed the stereotype of the wooden Indian.
Custer Died For Your Sins was a manifesto — it demanded the right of American Indians to control their image in rich detail. And “manifesto” was precisely the right word — a declaration of principles, policies, and intentions in a political context.
But the book had a dual manifesto: To American Indian readers it was a call to arms, a plea to recognize the essence of tribal philosophy, political systems, and religion.
As Deloria wrote, “There is more to the story than that. Indian people today have a chance to re-create a type of society for themselves, which can defy, mystify, and educate the rest of American society. Yet they mill around like so many cattle, not bringing to the surface the greatness that is in them.”
Looking back over 50 years it’s clear that the most significant contribution of the book was that idea American Indians controlling our narrative, owning our story.
Then it’s not just our story. At a conference last week Haskell Indian Nations University professor Daniel Wildcat said the day will come when Vine Deloria Jr is remembered as one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers.
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The state and territory data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention includes three columns: Column A for the state or territory (which should include tribal nations, by the way); the number of confirmed cases; and the number of deaths. But if you insert a new tab, a filter for population, then the story grows even more significant.
What population is counted determines our understanding about how widespread the disease is and where it will go next.
But all of that changes if a different denominator is used. The problem here is that we know the Census undercounts Indian Country. We don’t know by how many people, though.
The $8 billion tribal relief fund will not last long. More than 600 tribes, corporations, and even nonprofit organizations registered last week with the Treasury Department documenting what’s needed to at least partly mitigate the impact of the coronavirus.
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The corona virus pandemic is like nothing we have experienced before. The virus is new — and something we humans have no protection against — and so governments around the world including tribal governments are still trying to figure out how to respond.
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Why don’t people believe? Why the business as usual? And what will it take to change behavior?
Consider this math: California has a model that projects 25 million of its citizens will be infected by the virus over the next 8 weeks. That works out to 62.5 percent of the population.
And if California is a bellwether — as it often is — that means that out of 3 million people some 1.8 million people in Indian Country.
The World Health Organization and the CDC say mild cases account for 75-to-80 percent of the total. This is harsh, but that model means that about 500,000 people in Indian Country will get seriously ill or will die.
“It’s unfortunate that people are not taking this serious. Maybe it would be mass casualties that would really open people’s eyes,” Dean Seneca, executive director of Seneca Scientific Solutions. He told Indian Country Today and worked for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s Office for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support for more than 18 years.
Seneca knew the U.S. was going to face a pandemic, and especially when China had more than 20,000 cases.
It is a hard thing to do to shut down everything. No visiting. No shopping. Just sit and wait.
And here’s the thing. We may have to do this for weeks if not months.
In California normally congested freeways are wide open and city streets are mostly empty.
Clearly life is not normal. Yet a lot of people still are living in denial.
Sunday night Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth, announced on her Instagram page that she lost her brother to the pandemic.
“Almost exactly two months after we buried our dad, my brother Ron passed on Saturday,” she wrote. “To many, he’ll be a statistic: Tennessee’s second COVID-related death. But to me, I’ll remember a loving, older brother, uncle, father, and husband.”
Flanagan said several weeks ago her brother was diagnosed with cancer. “His immune system was compromised and he contracted COVID-19,” she wrote. “He fought as hard as he could but it was simply too much for his body. THIS is why we must #StayHomeMN.”
She wrote that someone feeling well could still be carrying the virus … “then you walk past the next Ron, my big brother, in public.
The new normal. I am Mark Trahant.