Indian Country headlines for Monday

Pictured: The Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska nourishes thriving salmon runs. (Photo by Carl Johnson)

Indian Country Today

Stories we’re following on Nov. 30, 2020: Tribes celebrate Pebble mine decision, descendants of enslaved Muscogee (Creek) Nation seek recognition, emergency hunts in Alaska can continue, and much more

Indian Country Today

Navajo Department of Health executive director to serve on Biden-Harris COVID-19 advisory board

Navajo Department of Health Executive Director Dr. Jill Jim, Navajo, was chosen to be on the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Advisory Board. 

“I am proud to serve as a member of the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. I look forward to working with fellow members of the advisory board to help prepare an urgent, robust, and professional response to the global public health crisis, for President-elect Biden to lead with on day one,” Dr. Jim said in a statement. 

Navajo Department of Health Executive Director Dr. Jill Jim. (Photo courtesy of Navajo Nation Office of President and Vice President)
Navajo Department of Health Executive Director Dr. Jill Jim. (Photo courtesy of Navajo Nation Office of President and Vice President)

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez recommended Dr. Jim to be appointed to the advisory board. 

“Dr. Jim’s extensive public health experience and expertise has been a major benefit for the Navajo Nation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and now she will serve on a much broader level to help fight this modern-day monster throughout the country," Nez said. "Our Nation’s COVID-19 preventative measures and restrictions put forth by our public health experts have served as a model for other states and entities across the country. I congratulate her and thank her for her dedication and commitment to helping our Navajo people."

Dr. Jim is originally from Navajo Mountain, Utah, and a fluent Navajo speaker. She earned a Doctorate in Public Health, a Master’s Degree in Health Care Administration, a second Master’s in Public Health from the University of Utah. She also has a bachelor's degree in health promotion and community health education from Northern Arizona University. She served as a health care analyst, a consultant for Navajo Area Indian Health Service, and as an epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health.

Trump administration denies permit for divisive Alaska mine

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Environmental and tribal organizations are celebrating a decision by the Trump administration to deny permits for a controversial gold and copper mine near the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in southwest Alaska.

The Pebble mine would have been the nation’s largest, and one of the world’s largest open-pit mines.

The Army Corps of Engineers said in a statement it denied permit applications under the Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act. Col. Damon Delarosa, commander of the corps’ Alaska district, said the agency “concluded that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest.”

A coalition of area tribes, in a statement, said tribes and others are celebrating “as the decision reflects the sound science and overwhelming public opposition to this toxic project.”

United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a coalition of 15 federally recognized Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq tribes in southwest Alaska, went on to say the threat of large-scale mining will loom until permanent protection of the Bristol Bay watershed is achieved.

“Future generations should not have to live with the threat of mining developments that would devastate our cultures, communities, and existing economies. We must ensure that Bristol Bay’s pristine lands and waters are protected in perpetuity. The fact that this permit denial comes from a pro-development administration speaks volumes to the need for strong, permanent protections for the Bristol Bay watershed and all it sustains.”

Emergency hunts in Alaska can continue

Kake is a village of 550 people on Kupreanof Island in Southeast Alaska. About two thirds of the population is Tlingit Indian. Last summer the village received permission to hunt two moose and five deer to ensure the health of its elders and provide culturally nourishing food during the pandemic. (File photo: Creative Commons)
Kake is a village of 550 people on Kupreanof Island in Southeast Alaska. About two thirds of the population is Tlingit Indian. The village has received permission to hunt two moose and two deer to ensure the health of its elders and provide culturally nourishing food during the pandemic. (File photo: Creative Commons)

In August, the state of Alaska sued to stop federal agencies from allowing emergency hunts. The U.S. District Court for Alaska last week sided with the federal agencies and dismissed the state’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

The dispute stems from COVID-related food shortages.

Last summer, store shelves in the Tlingit village of Kake, in southeast Alaska, were laid bare. COVID-19 outbreaks had slowed production at Washington state meat processors, Kake’s main source of non-game meat. 

The state had mandated travel restrictions. And state budget cuts had all but shut down the low-cost ferry system used to ship food to island communities.

The Organized Village of Kake requested an emergency hunt.

Kake tribal President Joel Jackson, Tlingit and Haida, testified to the Federal Subsistence Board that Kake tribal citizens and elders needed the best nutrition they could get to fight COVID.

U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Gleason ruled an emergency hunt was reasonable and in keeping with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which aims to ensure the physical well-being of rural residents of Alaska.

The state has indicated it will appeal.

Creating a new normal

Second-grader Winona Begaye uploads homework in her family’s vehicle near Piñon. Navajo Nation schools have remained virtual this fall because it’s too dangerous to reopen their doors. To help families with no internet or poor access get online, the Piñon Unified School District outfitted school buses with Wi-Fi. (Photo by Megan Marples/Cronkite News)
Second-grader Winona Begaye uploads homework in her family’s vehicle near Piñon. Navajo Nation schools have remained virtual this fall because it’s too dangerous to reopen their doors. To help families with no internet or poor access get online, the Piñon Unified School District outfitted school buses with Wi-Fi. (Photo by Megan Marples/Cronkite News)

PIÑON, Arizona – In the Piñon school district on the Navajo reservation, students go to great lengths to keep up with classes online – they hike to high points to get a cell signal, sit outside near a Wi-Fi hotspot. One moved to Phoenix alone after his only parent died of COVID-19 to work while going to school online.

Their dream is to graduate high school and college, land a dream job, get out of their small town, and succeed. Even in the best of times, that dream is difficult for Native American students to attain.

Even before the pandemic, Native youth had the highest U.S. dropout rates, twice that of white children, and the nation’s lowest graduation rate – 72 percent, compared with an 85 percent national average.

Now the Navajo reservation has one of the nation’s highest COVID-19 death rates. Across the reservation, COVD-19 victims include parents and grandparents, sole guardians and providers, mentors and teachers. Without them, some students have lost their way.

Still, Piñon officials are still doing what they can to inspire their students. Science teacher James Gustafson, a former radiological engineer who worked at nuclear power plants, spoke recently via Zoom to a group of ROTC students about his career.

It’s meant to remind them that their dreams still can be realized.

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Virtual Urban Indian Powwow planned for Monday

The National Council of Urban Indian Health is hosting its first virtual Urban Indian Powwow on Monday.

The hourlong celebration is being held to close out Native American Heritage Month, the organization said in a release.

“Take a moment to start your week by reconnecting to the culture through prayer, song and dance with a more urban style,” the release said. “Our emcee will educate audience members on the types of dance, history and how our culture is medicine and a part of Native health and healing.”

The powwow is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. EST and will be streamed on Facebook Live and Zoom. For more details and to RSVP, click here.

Watch: Sharing 'our stories' with children's books

On Friday’s Indian Country Today newscast we had Alaska Native authors discussing their most recent children's books based in Alaska and featuring Alaska Natives.

It's difficult, if not impossible, for Alaska Native parents to find books their children can identify with. That void prompted one group to help four Alaska Natives write their first children's book. It's part of the Best Beginnings, Seasons of Alaska series.

On the show we had Angela Gonzalez, Joni Spiess, Carla Snow and Yaari Toolie-Walker, who all took on the challenge of writing from a child's perspective. Alyssa London and Vera Starbard have also written children's books based in Alaska and featuring Alaska Natives. 

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