The virus now known as COVID-19 wasted no time finding its way to Indian Country. And tribes, casinos, and other institutions are all coming with plans for the “what’s next?”
This is Trahant Reports.
Last week the Congress appropriated emergency dollars — some $8.3 billion — to fund the federal government’s response. The legislation includes funding for tribes and urban Indian organizations, “to carry out surveillance” and other control measures.
In the meantime, one of the first questions raised by a lot of tribal communities is about travel.
The Umatilla Tribe’s Wildhorse Resort and Casino reopened last week two days after it closed for deep cleaning after an employee tested positive for the virus. The deep cleaning took place at the casino, a movie theater, hotel, conference center, restaurants and children’s entertainment center.
This whole chapter is remarkable. The tribe’s management of this incident was brilliant. The government took immediate steps and closed down its operation. And when it reopened the process included an inspection and a certification from the tribal government.
This was sovereignty in action.
Of course every tribal government and organization is coming up with its own plans.
The National Indian Gaming Association for example said its annual convention and trade show will go on as scheduled, March 24-27, in San Diego. “We are following the suggestions of the U.S. and state public health guidelines as they are developing with regards to the COVID-19 virus,” the association said. It said it is taking a number of steps to protect attendees, ranging from additional hand sanitation stations to medical support onsite.
Other tribes are significantly cutting back on travel. The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians announced its Yawa Award Lunch was being postponed. And the Navajo Nation has decided to limit travel for employees.
On the other hand, a National Tribal Health Summit is still scheduled to begin March 17 in Omaha and it will kick off with a pre-summit listening session. That session is scheduled for 4 pm.
The Denver March Powwow in Colorado is still “moving forward” with their plans to celebrate their 46th annual powwow. They said they are not considering cancelling their event at this time.
The thing is … there is no right answer here. The fact is that virus has probably been out in the world for some time and it’s only now we are only now learning about its impact.
I am Mark Trahant.
It was a proud day on Capitol Hill last week. Native Americans have new voices …
This is Trahant Reports.
Two Native American women, Sharice Davids, Ho Chunk, and Debra Haaland, Laguna
Pueblo, were sworn into the new Congress. They will join current
Representatives Mark Wayne Mullin, Cherokee, and Tom Cole, Chickasaw, in that
office. There are now four members from tribal nations in the Congress.
And this week Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Nation, takes office as Lt. Governor of
Minnesota. This is the highest ranking Native woman.
Another tribal citizen, Kevin Sttit, Cherokee Nation, will serve as governor of
And that’s just the offices we think of for headlines. There was more than a
hundred candidates in the general election for state legislatures — and 60 of
those were elected to office. In Arizona, for example, the state Senate went
from one member to three. All women, by the way.
Some of these legislative elections were from districts that represent tribal
communities, such as Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai who is Navajo. But others won in
broader or even urban districts such as: Rep. Jade Bahr, Northern Cheyenne, in
Billings, Montana, Rep. Ruth Buffalo, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara, in Fargo, North
Dakota, and, Debra Lekanoff, Tlingit in Washington state.
In San Juan County, Utah, after much voting rights litigation, a majority Navajo
county commission takes office. That means for the first time tribal citizens
will get a fair shake when it comes to state and local resources, such as
maintaining country roads.
What should we watch for as these elected officials take office? Here’s one: Listen
for Native voices. Will there be more of a say on issues that don’t even
directly involve Indian Country? Such as art councils, weights and measures
boards, all of the machinery that makes up government. This is important
because it includes us. It makes our voices valuable.
Back to Congress. Last week there were incredible celebrations. Rep. Haaland had an
open house in her congressional office building and lines of people showed up
to show their support and pass along their good wishes.
My favorite image, one that I saw often on the many campaign trails over the
years, is when young girls get their picture taken with the Congresswoman. They
now know they can grow up and follow this path to Congress, a governor’s
mansion, or even the White House. This is the very definition of an
As Deb Haaland told her supporters: “It’s a great day to be Indigenous!”
Yes, a great day. But it’s only one step and there is still a long way to go toward
representation in democracy.
I am Mark Trahant.
What the heck, Alaska? Think about one week’s worth of news ….
This is Trahant Reports.
- Alaska’s Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, Tlingit, resigned, citing “inappropriate comments” and was replaced by Valerie Davidson, Yupik.
- Then Davidson spoke to the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. Her talk was thoughtful, warm, and left many delegates wanting her as the next governor. But lieutenant governor works. For now.
- On Friday, Independent Gov. Bill Walker, Davidson’s de facto running mate, asked to address the convention. There he announced he was suspending his campaign for governor and tossing his support to Democrat Mark Begich. The math of a three-way race was impossible, guaranteeing the Republican candidate, Mike Dunleavy, an easy path to victory. “Alaskans deserve a choice other than Mike Dunleavy,” he said.
- Walker’s announcement was historic. A politician sacrificing ambition for the greater good. He said that Alaska has a lot to lose, especially Medicaid expansion. The convention gasped. Many cried. And delegates made their way to the stage to honor the governor and his legacy with song, with jewelry, and with words.
So what now? There are only a couple of weeks for Alaska voters have to forget what’s on the ballot and choose between two very different sets of visions.
“That’s what this campaign is going to be about: What’s Alaska going to look like in the future?” Dunleavy said in a debate at the AFN convention. He talked about working in rural Alaska and understanding the issues facing Native communities. He said he met his wife, Rose, in such a community and saw the need for jobs. Then he talked about mining, energy, and other development that is his Alaska future. This would mean more development even in areas that put traditional food gathering at risk. He also promises less government (and a larger payout from the state’s permanent fund to residents.)
Former Sen. Mark Begich is on the other side of just about every issue. He supports Medicaid expansion.
Medicaid has been extremely important to Alaska Natives (and the two people who ought to get a lot of credit for making it so is Gov. Walker and his now Lt. Gov. Davidson). This one federal program has insured some 44,000 Alaskans, many of them Alaska Natives, and created a sustainable revenue stream for the Indian health system. It’s telling that when Dunleavy talked about Medicaid to AFN he mentioned insurance and efficiency and other parts of the system that have no bearing on the Indian health system. He did not talk about a funding reversal would do — and how that would be a cost borne by Native people and communities.
Will Walker’s sacrifice make a difference in this election? Is it too late? Open questions. There are probably nine ways for Dunlevy to win and only one for Begich. And Dunleavy made this prediction: “There is only 18 days left, so don’t be surprised if there’s more surprises along the way.”
I am Mark Trahant.
Across the country, across the wide channel that we call “politics,” this is an extraordinary year. There are more Native Americans running for a variety of offices than at any point in history.
Two years ago at this point, there were five candidates for Congress, a total of three Democrats and two Republicans. There were four candidates for statewide offices in two states, North Dakota and South Dakota.
And this year? There are 10 candidates for Congress. A dozen running for statewide offices, including three for governor and another five for lieutenant governor. It’s also interesting to note the party breakdown this time around: Four Democrats are running for Congress; four Republicans; one Green Party candidate; and one candidate representing the Independence Party of Minnesota.
There are 77 Native Americans running for state legislatures across the country. And in Montana there are 14 or 15 candidates for the state legislature (depending on a legal challenge by the Green Party.) There are at least a half dozen legislative candidates in Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, South Dakota, and nine in Oklahoma.
This election has so many firsts, such as three Native American candidates for governors in Idaho, Hawaii, and Oklahoma.
One of those candidates for governor is Kevin Stitt, Cherokee. His career has been in business. He has not said a lot about tribal issues but has participated in a forum with the tribes. He was endorsed by President Donald J. Trump who tweeted: “Kevin Stitt ran a great winning campaign against a very tough opponent in Oklahoma,” Trump tweeted. “Kevin is a very successful businessman who will be a fantastic Governor. He is strong on Crime & Borders, the 2nd Amendment, & loves our Military & Vets. He has my complete and total Endorsement!”
There is a 100 percent increase in party nominees for Congress; a 300 percent increase in statewide candidates; and a seven percent increase in candidates for state legislatures.
In Oklahoma’s second congressional district, the next member of Congress will be a Cherokee citizen. Democrat Jason Nichols, the challenger, or the incumbent, Rep. Markwayne Mullin. He is one of two tribal citizens now serving in Congress along with Rep. Tom Cole.
Mullin started his reelection campaign with a controversy. Just by running. He broke a previous promise to only serve three terms (ticking off some of his more conservative supporters).
Mullin is a strong supporter of President Donald J. Trump and has said that his hope for this administration is “to end the overreaching paternalism that has held American Indians back from being the drivers of their own destiny.”
Nichols is the Mayor of Tahlequah. He says his campaign is about putting people ahead of politics and money. Recently commenting about the Cherokee Nation Holiday, Nichols said: “Our ancestors, I believe, would be proud of where we’ve come and where we’re headed in the Cherokee Nation.”
Oklahoma’s 2nd congressional district has one of the highest percentages of Native American voters in the country at just over 17 percent.
I am Mark Trahant.