Indian Country headlines for Monday

Jody Potts, Han Gwitch'in, has stepped forward to clear her daughter's name, and to encourage other women who are victims of sexual assault to speak up. (Photo by Keri Oberly)

Indian Country Today

News we’re talking about: Alaska Native woman speaks out about lieutenant governor’s advances; agency abruptly drops plans for in-person Navajo Nation schooling; and a longtime leader in Native higher education has died

Woman speaks out about lieutenant governor’s advances

A Han Gwitch’in Athabascan woman wants to remove a blot from her teenage daughter’s reputation and help change some of the attitudes and behavior that contribute to the state’s soaring rates of violence against Alaska Native women.

So Jody Potts is telling the story of inappropriate advances aimed at her almost two years ago by Alaska’s former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, Tlingit. Mallott died of a heart attack in May.

Mallott’s actions of 2018 had serious consequences. As word of the incident spread, he resigned. He and then-Gov. Bill Walker, an Independent, had been in a losing reelection campaign. Once Mallott left, Walker pulled out of the race.

Potts had kept her identity private. However, she told Indian Country Today a “partisan blogger” came up with a story that painted a darker picture than the actual event.

Agency abruptly changes course on Navajo schooling

Schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education on the Navajo Nation will be opening under a distance-learning plan this week, a stunning reversal of the agency’s plans to hold classes in person.

The agency apparently changed course after a discussion between Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and BIE Director Tony Dearman. Neither the Navajo Nation nor the BIE have issued public statements about the new plan, and officials did not respond to emailed requests for confirmation or comment.

Tara Sweeney, assistant secretary of Indian affairs for the Interior Department, sent a letter last month to tribal leaders indicating the BIE-operated schools would open with in-person instruction.

In this April 27, 2020, photo, a school bus is driven through Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo reservation. Even before the pandemic, people living in rural communities and on reservations were among the toughest groups to count in the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
In this April 27 photo, a school bus travels through Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah, on the Navajo Nation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Tribal leader: Accurate census is ‘life and death’ issue

Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis told a House panel last week that an accurate Census count could be a “matter of life and death” for tribal communities.

Lewis joined other witnesses at the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing to warn against an early end to the count.

No bureau representatives appeared at the hearing, but Republicans on the committee pushed back against the notion that the proposed timeline poses any problems, noting the 89.4 percent total response rate to the census so far.

The hearing came just days after a federal judge temporarily blocked a Census Bureau plan to end enumeration operations on Sept. 30, a month sooner than had been planned. The judge in that case said plaintiffs, including two Arizona tribes, had raised “serious issues” about the shortened timeline.

Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, center, during a Senate hearing in 2019. Lewis on Thursday told a House committee that an accurate census count is vital to tribes, but that a Census Bureau plan to end counting early could threaten the count. (File photo by Keerthi Vedantam/Cronkite News)
Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, center, during a Senate hearing in 2019. Lewis on Thursday told a House committee that an accurate census count is vital to tribes, but that a Census Bureau plan to end counting early could threaten the count. (File photo by Keerthi Vedantam/Cronkite News)

Longtime leader in Native higher education dies

David Gipp, Hunkpapa Lakota, a longtime advocate for Natives in higher education, has died. He was 74.

Gipp was one of the nation’s longest-serving college presidents, holding the title at the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota, for more than 37 years, from 1977 to 2014, according to a statement from the school’s current president, Leander McDonald.

McDonald said Gipp’s influence and the many initiatives he started will always be remembered and honored.

Gipp died Friday after an extended illness, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

“David Gipp devoted his entire adult life to serve Native people, using his vision and activism to address injustice and improve the acceptance of Native people in the modern world,” McDonald said. “As the United Tribes Technical College president and as a leader for the tribal college movement, he helped thousands of students pursue education and training to uplift their lives and those of their families and communities.”

Pictured: Dr. David M. Gipp, longtime leader of United Tribes Technical College, passed away September 11, 2020.
Dr. David M. Gipp (Photo courtesy of United Tribes Technical College)

Watch: Wildfires bring 'danger level' air quality

This forest fire season is being called the worst in history.

All across the west, fires are burning and leaving behind not just scarred land, but smoke in cities such as San Francisco.

For our reporter talkback we have two long-time station managers at tribal radio stations. Sue Matters is with KWSO and she covers the Warm Springs Indian community in Oregon and Joseph Orozco is the station manager for KIDE in Northern California and he covers the Hoopa Indian community.

“Well, the danger level is actually the air quality. We've seemed to have been able to hold a very good containment line near the reservation or between the fire and the actual Valley floor,” Orozco said.

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