Indian Country headlines for Thursday

New Zealand's Oscar-winning filmmaker and actor Taika Waititi, Maori, poses for a portrait during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.(Photo: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Indian Country Today

Stories we're following: New Zealand campaigns against racism, traditions promote healing in prison, how tribal exercise of public health authorities can halt COVID-19, and more

Filmmaker Taika Waititi uses his voice to fight racism

Taika Waititi, Maori, who once said New Zealand is "racist as f**k", has literally become the "voice of racism" in a New Zealand Human Rights Commission campaign.

Waititi is a film and television producer, actor and comedian. He won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2019 for the comedic film “Jojo Rabbit,” in which he also played the role of Adolf Hitler. He was recently nominated for Emmy Awards for Outstanding Voice-over Character for The Mandalorian, and Outstanding Comedy Series for What We Do In The Shadows.

On the human rights campaign website launched last week, Waititi utters phrases like, "Typical Māori, mucking around instead of making our coffees," and "I'm not racist; some of my family are brown.”

The effort encompasses more than 200 people who shared their experiences of racism in New Zealand. These were curated into a collection of everyday experiences, to represent the racism that exists in the lives of many. These experiences include things that were said verbally and through people’s actions, and the internalized racism recipients live with.

“Can you just believe us when we say racism exists in New Zealand?”

The site said internalized racism can affect self esteem. And ongoing exposure to negative stereotypes, stories and statistics about your race, and to the negative actions and words of other people, can have a harmful effect over the course of your life. Research shows these internalized effects can have physical health outcomes including avoidable disease and early death.

Preserving sacred traditions during a pandemic

In Washington, officials are turning to American Indian and Alaska Native traditions for healing. The hope is that it can ease and reduce the effects of trauma and cut down numbers of both prison inmates and people who are released and return.

At the Washington Correctional Center for Women, in a program called Red Willow, Native programs leader JoiSky Caudill uses talking circles, prayer, songs, storytelling, sweats, and smudging with cedar and sage smoke to promote healing.

Approximately 5.9 percent, or 1,011 incarcerated individuals, in Washington correctional facilities are American Indian or Alaska Native, although they make up only 1.5 percent of the state’s population. As of March 2020, the state’s recidivism rate among American Indian and Alaska Natives state was 44.5 percent.

Washington Department of Corrections tribal liaison Nancy Dufraine says historical trauma, chronic poverty, health disparities and lack of access to behavioral health services are all factors that increase the likelihood of a Native person becoming incarcerated. But having culturally informed programming can play a role in their success after incarceration.

“Access to this type of programming, including religious expression, education, training and health services while incarcerated with seamless transition upon reentry can have a large impact on recidivism as I see it,” Dufraine said. “These opportunities, especially religious expression, help identify paths to self-awareness and reborn cultural identity that builds strength and endurance to succeed.”

Vaccine won't make COVID-19 fade away

A lot of people are waiting for a vaccine. The idea is profound: A quick shot, and that scary COVID-19 fades away.

Some hopes were boosted Tuesday when Russia became the first country to approve a novel coronavirus vaccine. But the move also shows the problem with rushing a vaccine into production: Its effects have only been studied in dozens of people.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of his two adult daughters has already been inoculated. “I know it has proven efficient and forms a stable immunity,” Putin said. “We must be grateful to those who made that first step very important for our country and the entire world.”

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In this handout photo taken on Aug. 6, 2020, and provided by Russian Direct Investment Fund, a new vaccine is on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP)

Most scientists are not so sure. The Russian vaccine skipped what’s called a Phase 3 trial — which involves tens of thousands of people and can take months — considered necessary to prove if an experimental vaccine is safe and if it really works.

In the United States, more than 150 vaccines are under development, and two of those potential vaccines have begun Phase 3 testing. The U.S. government is pushing for a quick trial and marketing plan, the fastest ever in history. It has pledged $10 billion to develop 300 million doses for a “safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by January 2021.” The goal is to deliver two billion doses by the end of that year.

A lot of new science is going into developing these vaccines, some transferring proteins of a different virus, others that stimulate our immune system. And, it’s possible there will be more than one answer. (And more than one shot.)

But there remain a lot of questions, particularly pertaining to Indian Country. Click here to read more.

Sovereign exercise of public health authority, face-to-face contact tracing can 'halt this virus in its tracks'

On Wednesday’s Indian Country Today newscast, Dean Seneca, chief executive officer of Seneca Scientific Solutions Plus, talked with host and producer Patty Telehongva about steps tribal nations can take to halt the pandemic. Also, Indian Country Today's Dalton Walker gave an elections update.

Dean Seneca is a citizen of the Seneca Nation. He has Master’s degrees in public health administration and in urban and regional planning. He worked for many years at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in the area of infectious disease and pandemics. In 2014 he was a lead health scientist on the epidemiology team in Sierra Leone, Africa. He was also the first guest on Indian Country Today’s newscast when it started on April 6, 2020.

Seneca said he’s optimistic and hopeful that tribes can beat back the COVID-19 pandemic by exercising their public health authority. He held up tribes in Montana, South Dakota, and New Mexico for doing just that by closing roads to keep new people out and severely slow the spread of the virus.

He feels strongly that tribes need to take the next step: face-to-face contact tracing. Otherwise he said, up to 40 percent of people don’t answer their phones, and those who do may minimize or misrepresent facts. Face-to-face contact also allows contact tracers to offer other services: food, day care, supplies.

He said contact tracers need to be able to speak the local language and have a lot of empathy.

“We have to be able to put things in place that basically say that ‘it's not bad if you come into contact with the virus, it's not the worst situation.' We have to care for those people," Seneca said.

He saw governors on TV, asking for a national plan for assistance from the federal government.

“It's not coming,” Seneca said. “We need to exercise our own sovereignty and we need to not wait for the federal government, Indian health service or CDC to come in and say, ‘hey, change the way you're collecting data, change the way you're doing contact tracing.’ We can do this [ourselves] right now, immediately.”

He said by taking the right steps, “We will halt this virus in its tracks in many of our tribal communities.”

5 Native candidates win spots on November ballot in Minnesota

Indian Country Today national correspondent Dalton Walker said on our newscast: “It was a busy day in Minnesota [Tuesday night] on the state and even the city council level."

Four of five Native candidates that Indian Country Today was watching went uncontested in their primaries and moved on to the general election.

The fifth joined them late Tuesday: Heather Keeler won her Democratic primary with 66 percent of the vote in District 4A, in the Moorhead, Minnesota, area. 

Keeler is a favorite in November but plans to continue her aggressive social distance campaign to get the message out.

Also on Wednesday's newscast was Dean Seneca, a citizen of the Seneca Nation. He worked for many years at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in the area of infectious disease and pandemics.

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