Indian Country headlines for Friday

Pictured: Navajo Code Talker veterans at the 2012 Fourth Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference.

Indian Country Today

Stories we're following: Celebrating Navajo code talkers, concerns about federal legislation related to McGirt ruling, demands for action on Northern Cheyenne deaths, and more

Navajo Nation celebrates Navajo Code Talker Day

The Navajo Nation is hosting a virtual tribute Friday in honor Navajo Code Talker Day.

The free event starts at 9 a.m. MDT and features the code talkers filmed by Diné College and Winona State University students.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, Vice President Myron Lizer and Miss Navajo Nation Shaandin Parrish are scheduled to speak.

To watch, visit the Navajo Nation Council's Facebook, Vimeo and YouTube pages.

Tribe, senators demand action after string of deaths

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, another crisis has developed on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana.

Seeking answers and help to respond to a surge in crimes and deaths on the reservation, the tribe reached out to the state’s congressional delegation for assistance in holding federal agencies accountable.

“In the strongest possible terms, I plead for your help to address a public safety crisis on our Reservation which is the direct result of years of inexcusable neglect by the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” Northern Cheyenne President Rynalea Whiteman Pena wrote in a July 24 letter.

Pena shared four areas where the bureau has failed the tribe: severely understaffed police, the closure of the local jail, lack of information sharing and the agency’s absence leading to increased crime and vigilantism.

The state’s senators, Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Steve Daines, sent letters to the Interior Department, FBI and BIA this week calling for action and greater accountability.

A spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City FBI field office said her office could not discuss the letters, while the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not respond to an after-hours email Thursday seeking comment.

Sen. Steve Daines, left, Sen. Jon Tester, center, and Gov. Steve Bullock attend the grand opening ceremony for the new Montana Veterans Affairs Great Falls Medical Center on Friday, July 31, 2020, in Great Falls, Mont. (Rion Sanders /The Great Falls Tribune via AP)
This July 31 photo shows Sen. Steve Daines, left, Sen. Jon Tester, center, and Gov. Steve Bullock at the grand opening of the Montana Veterans Affairs Great Falls Medical Center. (Rion Sanders/The Great Falls Tribune via AP, File)

Tribal groups: Federal legislation could ‘irreparably undermine’ sovereignty

Several major tribal organizations are expressing concern about potential federal legislation related to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision reaffirming tribal jurisdiction over much of eastern Oklahoma.

Representatives from eight groups  including the National Congress of American Indians, the Association on American Indian Affairs and the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development sent a letter to Sen. Jim Inofe and Oklahoma’s other congressional delegates regarding work to create a bill in response to the McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling.

They pointed to a lack of tribal consultation and explained that “rushed legislation, even if narrowly crafted,” will create an expectation that Congress should diminish tribal authority, not preserve it.

“We stand united in our pledge to work as partners and engage in conversations with any parties who wish to work together to ensure that the greater possibilities presented by the Court’s historic decision become realities,” the letter said. “But we stand equally united in opposition to any rushed process that limits discussion, limits participants, and drives towards a calculated goal of passing destructive federal legislation.”

Oklahoma. Supreme Court. McGirt v. Oklahoma. Carpenter v. Murphy. Sharp v. Murphy.

Meanwhile, the Cherokee Nation established two commissions this week. The more recent one is for the Protection of Cherokee Nation Sovereignty.

It will look at resource concerns, costs and necessary steps needed to exercise expanded jurisdiction over crimes.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation announced a similar commission this week called the Mvskoke Reservation Protection Commission. That group of experts is taking a look at ways to shape policies for a better future.

#NativeVote20 update

In a close race for a state House seat in Hawaii involving two Native Hawaiians, Democrat Lynn Decoite defeated Walter Ritte, according to the final results. 

Decoite, an incumbent, received 3,243 votes to Ritte’s 3,152 votes.

Jacob Aki, a candidate for the Honolulu City Council, has qualified for November’s runoff. The Native Hawaiian finished second. 

Hawaii held its primary Aug. 8. For more primary results, click here.

In a late addition, Indian Country Today added Republican candidate Donna Bergstrom to Tuesday’s primary coverage. Bergstrom, Red Lake Nation, ran uncontested in a Republican primary in District 7 for state Senate.

For coverage of Minnesota’s primary, click here.

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North Dakota seeks to intervene in mineral rights suit

The state of North Dakota wants to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation over mineral rights under a man-made lake on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

The suit is over ownership of property submerged beneath Lake Sakakawea, which was created in the 1950s by damming the Missouri River and flooding reservation lands. The tribe is suing over a U.S. Department of the Interior decision issued in May that contradicts an earlier Obama-era ruling and concludes the state is the owner.

The state contends its interests in the dispute may differ from those of the federal government, so it should be allowed to intervene, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

"Three governments have an interest in adjudicating title to the bed of the river  the Tribe, North Dakota, and the United States," the state says in its filings. "All three should be allowed to participate in that adjudication."

At stake is more than $100 million in unpaid royalties as well as future payments sure to come from oil drilling beneath what was the original Missouri River bed.

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation has condemned the state's effort to intervene.

Further written arguments on whether the state should be allowed to intervene are due to the court later this month.

Watch: Campaigns, elections and activism

One of the latest guests on Indian Country Today's newscast was Debbie Nez-Manuel, Navajo, the first Indigenous woman elected as a national committee person for the Democratic Party. 

Nez-Manuel is now running for the Arizona state House. 

“I enjoy voting, but for me, that's just not enough," she said. "So I went and decided to run as a committee member."

Nez-Manuel said she was elected after speaking from her heart “about the importance of our elders, our grandparents, our youth being educated about the voter system.”

She noted that as a committee member, she spoke with other members and delegates about a range of issues “to make sure that people know who we are and what we need in our communities.”

“We want to ensure that the candidates who get nominated understand the depths of Indian Country,” Nez-Manuel said.

Turning out to vote, participating and donating time and money all help Natives become “influencers,” she said.

The Democratic National Committee will host a virtual national convention Aug. 17-20 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Also on the newscast, Indian Country Today national correspondent Mary Annette Pember gave an update on stories she's covering. One was on the health benefits of breastfeeding.

When babies breastfeed, their saliva transfers messages to the mother, “who then is able to produce, for instance, antibodies to respond to the baby if the baby's ill,” she said.

About another story, Pember explained: “The Bureau of Indian education, it looks like they are really pushing to open their direct bureau-funded schools. There's, like, 55 schools throughout Indian Country, and they want to do in-person instruction, and not all tribes agree with that.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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