Indian Country headlines for Friday

Biskakone Greg Johnson of the Lac du Flambeau Reservation in Wisconsin encourages Natives to vote. (Photo courtesy Wisconsin Native Vote.)

Indian Country Today

Stories we’re following on Nov. 6, 2020: "Something else" sways elections, voters OK casinos in four states, Navajo man selected for Arizona reapportionment board, and more

Indian Country Today

‘Something else’ may make all the difference this election

Native Americans have always known they are “something else,” as in extraordinary, and a force to be reckoned with. And something that’s often missed as being part of the national conversation.

CNN's Election Day poll of voters’ ethnicities in Arizona — and its “Something Else” designation — is just the latest version of a longer story.

CNN listed voter ethnicities as White, Black, Latino and Asian; Native people, however, were lumped into a catch-all classification with which they have become all too familiar. 

As the National Congress of American Indians has noted, lack of data often renders Native people invisible to media and governmental agencies, thus relegating us to an “asterisk Nation” rather than a data point.

But it may be that the asterisk, something-else Nation is playing an important role in driving the 2020 election outcomes. Especially because the margins between winners and losers are so narrow, the Native American vote can change outcomes. 

Although small and difficult to measure, the Native voting population is powerful.

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Voters OK casino measures in Nebraska, Maryland, South Dakota, Louisiana  

Lance Morgan, president and CEO of Ho Chunk, Inc.
Lance Morgan, president and CEO of Ho Chunk, Inc.

New casinos are on the horizon in several states after voters voted to end a ban on the industry in Nebraska, and approved expansion in other states.

Lance Morgan, Ho-Chunk, is president and CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. He said the company has $300 million ready to add casinos to existing horse-racing tracks in Omaha, Lincoln, and South Sioux City.

Morgan said the plan is to open casinos as soon as possible at the urging of casino backers and the state's horse racing industry. The next step would be to expand them to include restaurants, hotels and other amenities.

Nebraska voters approved approved three constitutional amendments Tuesday to legalize casinos at licensed horse racing tracks, authorize regulation, and provide tax credits for property owners.

In three other states, measures to authorize legal sports betting and to either approve or expand casino gambling also won big at the polls on Tuesday.

Maryland, South Dakota and Louisiana approved sports betting. Similar to Nebraska, Virginia approved casino gambling in four locations, and Colorado expanded the number and type of casino games it can offer.

Legislative leader selects Navajo man for redistricting panel

Derrick Watchman, CEO of Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, stands in the entryway of the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort east of Flagstaff, Ariz.
Derrick Watchman, CEO of Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, stands in the entryway of the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort east of Flagstaff, Ariz.

PHOENIX (AP) — A Democratic legislative leader on Thursday announced his selection of a Navajo Nation citizen as the fourth appointment to the Arizona panel that will draw new congressional and legislative districts for use in elections in the coming decade.

Derrick Watchman, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley’s selection for the Independent Redistricting Commission, heads an acquisition and development advisory firm based in Window Rock and is a former CEO of the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprises.

A statement announcing Watchman’s appointment by Bradley said that Watchman “is an important and essential addition to a commission where Indigenous perspectives and values have not been adequately represented.”

The top House Republican and Democratic leaders and the top Senate Republican leader previously each made one appointment to the redistricting commission, selecting from nominees forwarded by a state screening panel.

The four legislative leaders’ appointees — two Republicans and two Democrats— will pick one of five independents nominated by the screening panel to serve as the commission’s fifth member and chair.

The other legislative leaders’ appointees are Republicans David Mehl of Pima County and Douglas York of Maricopa County and Democrat Shereen Lerner of Maricopa County.

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‘Avatar represents Inuit’

Avatar character Katara with Inuit tattoos, @KataraPiujuq's Twitter profile picture (courtesy of @KataraPiujuq)
Avatar character Katara with Inuit tattoos, @KataraPiujuq's Twitter profile picture (courtesy of @KataraPiujuq)

Arctic peoples rarely see themselves in mainstream media. So a big Inuit fan base has emerged around “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” a cartoon show that portrays parts of Inuit culture. The series originally aired on Nickelodeon from 2005-2008 and debuted on Netflix in May.

The shows center around a fictional civilization, where each nation is characterized by a different element: fire, earth, air and water. On Twitter, some people say they consider the show’s depiction of the Water Tribe as one of the only representations of Arctic Indigenous people, specifically Inuit communities, in mainstream media.

Not only does Avatar portray parts of Inuit cultures -- it also portrays the characters in complex, adventurous, leading roles. Certain Water Tribe characters had intriguing powers and featured storylines that were “just cool concepts in general,” Charitie Ropati, Yup’ik, said. For her, this was a welcome change from the stereotypical depiction of Indigenous people that’s often seen in mainstream media.

“As Native kids, we're taught to think that we have to fulfill this stoic Native stereotype role in the movies,” she said. “Watching Avatar as a kid with my younger siblings made us realize that we didn’t have to be subjected to what non-Natives thought we were — we can be waterbenders, we can be astronauts, we can be people who fight in the galaxy, and still hold on to our Indigeneity.”

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Navajo Nation lawmakers approve casino reopening plan

Northern Edge Navajo Casino is in Upper Fruitland, New Mexico.
Northern Edge Navajo Casino is in Upper Fruitland, New Mexico.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Lawmakers on the Navajo Nation approved legislation Monday to reopen the tribe's four casinos, even as the tribe's health director warned that the coronavirus is spreading uncontrollably.

The tribe's casinos in Arizona and New Mexico have been closed since March. The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise got the blessing of the Navajo Nation Council to reopen them at a minimum 50% capacity later this month, but it still needs an OK from the tribal president.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez has 10 days to act on the legislation once it reaches him. He has not indicated whether or not he'll support it.

The casinos employ nearly 1,200 people, most of whom are Navajo. They have been on paid administrative leave. The gambling enterprise has used federal Paycheck Protection Program funding and a share of the tribe's coronavirus relief funding to stay afloat.

“Our concern is that if we're unable to reopen, we're going to be forced into a situation where we would no longer have the cash reserves to be able to open again at some point in the near future,” the enterprise's interim chief executive, Brian Parrish, told lawmakers.

The enterprise also wants to fully open a new travel center east of Flagstaff next to its Twin Arrows Casino Resort. The tribe's other three casinos are in northwestern New Mexico.

Parrish said the casinos have drawn up a health and safety plan in line with recommendations from tribal and federal health experts. It includes social distancing, no smoking, partitions, hand sanitizer and face shields. Safety isn't guaranteed, but Parrish said employees and patrons will be safer at the casinos than other places off the reservation.

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Watch: Sacajawea coin model celebrates 20 years

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Twenty years ago, the U.S. Mint released a $1 coin dedicated to Sacajawea. On Thursday, Indian Country Today newscast sat down with Shoshone-Bannock citizen Randy'L Teton, the Sacajawea model on the coin.

“I am labeled today as the youngest and only living model on the United States currency,” she said. “And I have a story to share just with my journey, but also understanding who Sacajawea is as a Shoshone girl.”

Teton explained the different spellings of Sacajawea. This historic figure is spelled and pronounced differently by many tribes. For example, The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation spell her name with a "K." Sacajawea was Lemhi Shoshone and the tribe spell it with a "J" and when U.S. Mint made the coin, it split the difference and used a "G."

Indian Country Today's Reporter-Producer Aliyah Chavez is also on the newscast with some of the campaign trail stories she's been working on for more than a year.

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