Indian Country Headlines for Monday

This week the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, with the state of Montana, will hold mass testing for COVID-19. In Montana, Native Americans make up 7 percent of the population, but 37 percent of the deaths due to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Indian Country Today

News we're following on July 20, 2020

Mass testing by Fort Peck Tribes, state of Montana to follow Montana rodeo

The Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, with the state of Montana, will host mass testing for the coronavirus in the wake of a rodeo that's one of the region’s top annual draws.

Tribal leaders had feared the Wolf Point Wild Horse Stampede could lead to an outbreak. In June, the Fort Peck Tribes voted to oppose holding the rodeo this year. Tribal leaders dropped their funding for the event, prohibited their departments from participating and advised tribal members not to go.

Days before the three-day rodeo began on July 9, county, tribal and stampede committee officials tried to come up with a compromise. Organizers agreed to cancel the parades and festivities that usually accompany the event — but the rodeo would go on.

In Montana, COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Native Americans, who make up roughly 7 percent of the state’s population. At least 11 percent of the state total of 204 confirmed cases are Native Americans, according to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. And Native Americans make up 37 percent of the state’s COVID deaths.

New school year raises questions, health concerns

School districts across Indian Country and the nation are trying to figure out how and when they can safely bring students back to campus

School districts across Indian Country and the nation are trying to figure out how and when they can safely bring students back to campus. Positive cases and deaths from the virus have only risen since schools shuttered in-person learning in March, and a vaccine or reliable treatment remains unavailable.

Oklahoma tribal leaders say they don't support agreement

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — One day after announcing an agreement in principle with Oklahoma's attorney general on proposed federal legislation regarding tribal jurisdiction, the leaders of two of five major Native American tribes indicated Friday that they don't support the deal.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill and Seminole Nation Chief Greg P. Chilcoat both said they're not in agreement with the document released Thursday by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. 

The agreement announced Thursday with leaders of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations came after the high court ruled last week that much of eastern Oklahoma remains an Indian reservation. The agreement was not legally binding, but was a framework for proposed federal legislation.

"As the chief, I very much believe that collaboration between federal, state and tribal governments is critical and necessary following the Supreme Court's decision," Hill wrote in a letter to tribal citizens. "That collaboration, however, does not require congressional legislation."

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Press Secretary Jason Salsman said the tribe would have further comment on the matter early next week.

Chilcoat said in a statement the Seminole Nation wasn't involved in discussions and never formally approved the agreement.

Both Hunter and tribal representatives issued press releases on Thursday indicating their support of the plan. Hunter said Friday Hill's announcement was a "stunning and regrettable reversal of commitments and assurances to me."

"Legislation is necessary to clarify the criminal and civil uncertainty created by the McGirt decision," Hunter said in a statement. "I am deeply disappointed in Chief Hill for withdrawing from this process. It is my hope that both the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Seminole Nation will recommit to our agreement on legislation that preserves public safety and promotes continued economic growth." 

Under the agreement, the state would have criminal jurisdiction over non-Native American offenders throughout the treaty territories, with some exceptions, while the tribes would have overlapping jurisdiction over most offenders who are tribal citizens. Federal prosecutors would still have jurisdiction under the Major Crimes Act over certain serious crimes committed by Native Americans.

The agreement clarifies that civil jurisdiction would remain largely unchanged.

States reject tens of thousands of mail ballots in primaries, setting off alarms for November

Mail voting is the safest method in a pandemic. But as NBC reports, pitfalls could trip up a potentially decisive number of people.

The problems ranged from the late delivery of ballots to voters and unclear instructions to election workers who didn't know what to do with a ballot handed in to them.

Systems accustomed to handling thousands of ballots were overwhelmed by the arrival of tens of thousands. The number of rejections skyrocketed. Ballots can be tossed for voter errors like not signing in all the right places, having a signature that doesn't exactly match one's voter registration signature, or late arrival to election officials.

In California, a state that allowed all eligible voters to cast a ballot by mail before the pandemic and is accustomed to processing millions of those ballots, more than 102,000 ballots were rejected in its March 3 primary, up from 69,000 in the state's 2016 primary. Some 70,000 were rejected because they reached election officials late.

In Wisconsin's April 7 primary, the rejection rate was 1.8 percent, with more than 20,000 mail ballots rejected, according to state data. That's 12 times the number of mail ballots rejected in the 2016 presidential primary.

Mexican president pledges better health care after pandemic

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president promised Sunday to combat chronic health problems and improve health care, as the country’s cases of COVID-19 continued to mount.

Mexico's health department reported 5,311 more confirmed cases, for a total of 344,224, and 296 more COVID-19 deaths, for a total of 39,184.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Sunday in a message to the families of coronavirus victims that he would fight chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension that make people more likely to suffer severe cases of COVID-19.

He pledged to do so by promoting physical education, training more medical personnel, and fighting junk food.

Arizona's rugged individualism poses barrier to mask rules

PHOENIX (AP) — With the coronavirus spreading out of control and Arizona cities beginning last month to require residents wear masks in public, a few hundred people gathered in Scottsdale to make clear they didn’t approve being told to cover their faces.

A city councilman, Guy Phillips, came to the podium and ripped off his black face mask, declaring, “I can’t breathe!”

He later insisted his comment was meant to highlight the oppressive nature of masks, not to mock the dying words of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, though Phillips' words were widely interpreted as racist.

The buzz-off attitude is taking on new importance as the state has become one of the world’s top hot spots for the spread of the coronavirus.

Arizona is one of 18 states in the coronavirus “red zone” that should take stricter action to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19, according to an internal White House report unveiled Thursday. 

States are categorized as being in the red zone if they exceeded 100 new cases per 100,000 residents last week and had more than 10 percent positive tests for the virus. Arizona topped both categories, with 349 new cases per 100,000 residents and a 20 percent positive test rate, according to the document.

Wanted: Poll workers willing to brave a global pandemic in November

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Governments across the country are scrambling to find people to staff polling places for the presidential election this fall as the coronavirus sows doubt about how safe it will be to cast a ballot in person and thins out an already scarce pool of workers.

Recruitment efforts are increasingly targeting younger people, who are less at risk of developing serious illness from the virus, as officials and advocates aim strategies toward professional associations, students and sports teams to make sure election sites stay open. 

Experts say finding enough poll workers is always difficult, even when there isn't a pandemic killing thousands of people, forcing widespread shutdowns and spawning a series of evolving safety rules. Normally, long hours, low pay and lots of stress might keep folks away. Now add face shields, protective barriers and fears of getting sick.

Governments around world eye tougher steps to fight virus

(AP) Signs of governments reassessing their coronavirus response were scattered around the world Sunday with the mayor of Los Angeles saying the city was reopened too quickly, Ohio’s governor warning his state is “going the wrong way,” Hong Kong issuing tougher new rules on wearing face masks and Spain closing overcrowded beaches.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Los Angeles was “on the brink” of new widespread stay-at-home orders as LA County continued to see the state’s largest increase in confirmed coronavirus cases.

Infections have been soaring in U.S. states including California, Florida, Texas and Arizona, with many blaming a haphazard, partisan approach to lifting lockdowns as well as the resistance of some Americans to wearing masks.

The number of confirmed infections worldwide has passed 14.3 million, with 3.7 million in the United States and more than 2 million in Brazil. Experts believe the pandemic’s true toll around the world is much higher because of testing shortages and data collection issues. 

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