Headlines for Tuesday

President-elect Joe Biden gestures to supporters Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Indian Country Today

Stories we're following for Nov. 24, 2020: Formal Biden transition to begin, Michigan certifies Biden win, NDN Collective fights racism through philanthropy, Native students face isolation, and much more

Indian Country Today

US agency okays formal Biden transition

WASHINGTON (AP) — The General Services Administration has ascertained that President-elect Joe Biden is the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election, clearing the way for the start of the transition from President Donald Trump's administration.

An official said Administrator Emily Murphy made the determination after Trump efforts to subvert the vote failed across battleground states, most recently in Michigan, which certified Biden's victory Monday.

The move clears the way for Biden aides to begin coordinating with federal agencies on plans for takeover on Jan. 20.

The decision comes after increasing pressure on the Trump administration from Republicans, national security experts and business leaders to authorize the formal transition process.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman, a senior member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also said Biden should receive high-level briefings on national security and the coronavirus vaccine distribution plan.

More than 160 business leaders had asked GSA chief Emily Murphy to immediately acknowledge Biden as president-elect and begin the transition to a new administration.

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Election officials sort absentee and early voting ballots for counting inside Boston City Hall, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Despite lobbying and lawsuits by President Trump and his supporters, officials in Michigan and Pennsylvania have certified election results in their states. Shown here: mail-in ballots on Nov. 2, 2020, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Michigan certifies Biden victory despite Trump's GOP overtures

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan election officials on Monday certified Democrat Joe Biden’s victory amid President Donald Trump’s brazen attempts to subvert the election results. Biden won the state by 154,000 votes.

The Board of State Canvassers, two Republicans and two Democrats, confirmed the results on a 3-0 vote with one abstention. Trump allies and losing GOP Senate candidate John James had urged the panel to delay voting for two weeks to audit votes in heavily Democratic Wayne County, home to Detroit.

The move is another setback in Trump’s efforts to undermine the results of the Nov. 3 election. It came even after he made direct overtures to Michigan Republican officials by inviting them to the White House last week.

Under Michigan law, Biden claims all 16 electoral votes. He won Michigan by 2.8 percentage points — a larger margin than in other states where Trump is contesting the results like Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Some Trump allies had hoped state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors in states that do not certify. That long shot bid is no longer possible in Michigan.

Projects to focus on missing, murdered Indigenous peoples

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma and five other states will participate in pilot projects to better coordinate investigative efforts surrounding cases of missing or murdered Indigenous peoples, U.S. Attorneys Trent Shores and Brian Kuester announced Tuesday. 

The U.S. Department of Justice projects created protocols for federal, state and tribal investigative agencies to work together and with victims' families when American Indian or Alaska Native jurisdictional boundaries are crossed, said Shores of the Northern District of Oklahoma.

The key, according to Shores, is developing a coordinated effort with different tribes and their individual cultures and practices.

"We know that Indian Country knows Indian Country best and tribal leaders and tribal citizens know best what will work for their community," Shores said. "Too often we have tried to find a one size fits all" solution when what may work in Oklahoma does not apply in other states and regions.

The first pilot project will launch in Oklahoma and is joined by the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations, whose Principal Chiefs, Chuck Hoskin, Jr. and David Hill said the project recognizes tribal sovereignty while helping protect their citizens.

"No matter what ... reservation we call home we all have the same goal, public safety (and) a successful future for those residing in our state," Hill said.

Shores said the project will focus on both missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, but in Oklahoma is likely to have greater impact on missing persons cases. Homicide cases, Shores said, often are well defined as to which agency has jurisdiction, but missing persons cases may not even involve a crime, such as when a person flees an abusive relationship.

Shores said similar projects are planned in Alaska, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Oregon.

The U.S. Department of Justice last year launched a national strategy to address missing and murdered Native Americans that later expanded. The program includes $1.5 million to hire coordinators in 11 states, including Oklahoma.

An Associated Press investigation in 2018 found that nobody knows precisely how cases of missing and murdered Native Americans happen nationwide because many cases go unreported, others aren't well documented and no government database specifically tracks them.

Doubling down on Native values

Nick Tilsen gestures while talking about the NDN Collective in this 2018 photograph. Tilsen’s non profit last week was picked by the Bezos Earth Fund -- run by Amazon founder Jeff bezos -- to receive $12 million in funding. (Photo by Stewart Huntington)
Nick Tilsen gestures while talking about the NDN Collective in this 2018 photograph. (Photo by Stewart Huntington, File)

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Nick Tilsen set two lofty goals for his fledgling nonprofit: to become the country's largest, Indigenous-led nonprofit institution, and to fundamentally change the culture of U.S. philanthropy.

Now, after raising more than $57 million since 2018, he’s on his way toward reaching the first mark. The second mark? Still firmly in his sights.

“One of our big issues here at the NDN Collective is addressing white supremacy and systematic racism in the field of philanthropy,” said Tilsen, Olglala Lakota, from his organization’s base in this Black Hills city. “Money and decision-making power and resources need to be shifted out of these mostly white-led institutions and shifted into Indigenous and people of color-led institutions.”

The collective, whose motto for Native nations is, “Defend, Develop and Decolonize,” has gained the attention of major funders across the U.S.

That status was reinforced last week when Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and the worlds’ richest person, announced that NDN would receive $12 million as one of the first 16 recipients of his $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund to combat climate change.

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Cut off: School closings leave rural students isolated

With rates of COVID-19 reaching new highs, it is unclear when school officials will reopen schools such as this one, Navajo Middle School, a reservation school in Navajo, New Mexico.
With rates of COVID-19 reaching new highs in New Mexico, it is unclear when school officials will reopen schools such as this one, Navajo Middle School, a reservation school in Navajo, New Mexico.

CUBA, N.M. (AP) — School closures and the switch to remote learning have left students on the fringe of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico profoundly isolated. Many are cut off from direct human contact. For some, internet service is unavailable or prohibitively expensive. Some also lack electricity and running water.

It is yet another way in which the pandemic has exposed the gap between the haves and have-nots in the U.S.

Some students live in widely separated cabins, trailers, campers and other structures on a vast checkerboard of tribal, federal and county land. 

They rely on school bus drivers for meals and to carry assignments back and forth. The buses also carry art supplies and counselors who check in with students who are struggling with online bullying, abuse, thoughts of suicide or other problems.

“There’s not a lot to do here. You clean up, pick up trash or build stuff. Like, I built that shed right there,” 18-year-old Cyliss Castillo said, pointing at a pitched-roof plywood shed. 

The buses are a lifeline for families in the Cuba school district, of whom nearly half are Hispanic and half are Native American, including many Navajo-speaking English-language learners. The district has a record of innovative action that’s led to an 83 percent graduation rate.

With COVID-19 cases spiking in New Mexico to their highest levels yet, it is unclear when the district will begin offering in-person classes again.

Tlingit artist’s work to be featured on a US Postal Service stamp

The design of the stamp, titled “Raven Story” by Rico Lanáat’ Worl, is to be unveiled by the U.S. Postal Service as part of its Forever Stamps series.
New US Postal Service stamp designed by Tlingit artist Rico Lanáat’ Worl, of Juneau, to be released in 2021 (Courtesy of U.S. Postal Service, Sealaska Heritage Institute)

A design by a Tlingit artist from Juneau, Alaska will be featured on a new postage stamp to be released next year.

Rico Lanáat’ Worl is founder of Trickster, a shop that incorporates traditional Northwest Coast art into clothing and sports equipment such as basketballs and skateboards.

He told Alaska Public Radio’s Henry Leasia, KHNS - Haines a US Postal Service art director contacted him after seeing some of his company’s work at the National Museum of the American Indian’s gift shop in Washington, DC.

Worl will use a scene from one of the best known traditional Tlingit tales: the story of how Raven freed the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is working with the US Postal Service to hold a ceremony releasing the stamp to the public next year.

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Watch: Documenting food insecurity, sovereignty 

Tsanavi Spoonhunter

On Monday’s Indian Country Today newscast, Director Tsanavi Spoonhunter, Arapaho and Paiute, talks about her award winning documentary “Crow County: Our Right to Food Sovereignty.”

Food sources on the Crow reservation in Montana were already scarce when the one affordable grocery store burned down. The film shows the struggles of Crow tribal members in Montana to get food while restricted from traditional hunting grounds. Spoonhunter’s 20-minute film recently won best documentary short at the American Indian film festival.

Indian Country Today’s Associate Editor Vincent Schilling joins the newscast with the latest on shows that feature Indigenous actors and stories in his Native Nerd Report. This week he talks about “New Mutants,” and the television series “Yellowstone” with Kevin Costner.

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