Indian Country headlines for Thursday

Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, of New Mexico serves as one of the first two Native women elected to Congress. (Photo by Haaland campaign)

Indian Country Today

Stories we're following on Oct. 30, 2020, including: Deb Haaland seeks reelection; voter registration addresses lead to abuse; and final rule is issued on logging in Alaska's Tongass National Forest

Indian Country Today

US Rep. Deb Haaland seeks a second term

Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico says her first term in Congress has been nothing short of eventful after being sworn in during a government shutdown, voting in a presidential impeachment and working through a global pandemic.

Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblo, is seeking reelection for a second term representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. On Nov. 3, she faces Republican opponent Michelle Garcia-Holmes, a former police detective and administrator for the state attorney general’s office.

In 2018, Haaland, alongside Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, made history as the first Native American women elected to Congress. Since then, Haaland says she’s felt proud to work on key legislation impacting Indian Country, including bills addressing the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis.

The Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act were signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on Oct. 10. Both bills aim for better data collection, coordination and increased resources.

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Pueblo leadership council gets new chairman

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A leadership council that represents pueblos across New Mexico has a new chairman.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors announced Tuesday that Wilfred Herrera Jr. of Laguna Pueblo will serve as chairman after J. Michael Chavarria of Santa Clara Pueblo submitted his resignation. Chavarria cited personal reasons for his decision to step down but didn’t provide any details.

The council is considering whether to hold a special election early next year to fill the remainder of Chavarria’s two-year term.

During his time on the council, Chavarria has been outspoken about issues ranging from education to the protection of cultural sites. He had testified numerous times before state and federal officials this year about extending protection to areas outside the boundaries of Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.

Chavarria also has served in many roles within his pueblo, including several terms as governor.

Navajo Nation seeks more paper applications for virus funds

The Associated Press

The Navajo Nation said it is working to release more paper applications for a tribal hardship assistance program after application shortages caused challenges for chapters and tribal members. 

The Navajo Nation Office of the Controller made applications available Monday to enrolled members of the tribe who are 65 and older or who have disabilities. The Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program applications are open to all other enrolled tribal members on Nov. 2, the Gallup Independent reported. The deadline to apply is Nov. 30. 

The maximum financial assistance amount is $1,500 for people 18 and older and $500 for minors, officials said. The first checks are expected to be mailed in early December.

However, the department said only 3,000 applications were printed over the weekend, and then distributed to the Navajo Nation's 110 chapters. 

The department said the delay was because the application is printed on a certain type of paper that is also used for election ballots, and because they are numbered to prevent fraud.

Controller Pearline Kirk said the printing process is expected to continue and 200,000 more applications will be made available to the chapters. The printed applications are intended for those who cannot fill out the application online. The website link for the online application is scheduled to be available Nov. 2.

"This application process is not first come, first served. No matter when you apply, your application will be given equal treatment. Thank you for your understanding and patience during this time," Kirk said.

The Daily Times reported that five chapters in San Juan County said they each received 20 applications on Monday. Upper Fruitland Chapter Manager Alvis Kee said the challenging part was that they were uncertain what the expectations were and what the process was going to look like. 

"This is the first time that the Navajo Nation has had funds for this specific purpose," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said. "With any initiative of this magnitude, there will be minor issues that arise, and we have to continue working together to resolve the issues and move forward. We ask everyone to be respectful of the Office of the Controller as they work hard to help our Navajo people."

Nez has urged residents to continue wearing masks in public, practice social distancing, wash hands frequently and avoid large gatherings to help limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, Navajo Nation health officials on Wednesday reported 71 new confirmed coronavirus cases but no new deaths for the eighth time in the last nine days. The latest figures bring the total number of cases to 11,462 on the vast reservation with the known death toll remaining at 575.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. 

They survived abuse — now they can’t safely vote

StrongHearts Native Helpline, emotional abuse, intimate relationship
(Photo: StrongHearts Native Helpline)

As millions of Americans cast their ballots in this year’s contentious presidential election, domestic violence survivor Susanna Cox will abstain from the polls.

To register, voters must include their address, which becomes publicly available information. As someone who has fled abuse and is still evading their abusers, Cox just can’t take the risk.

A few months ago, Susanna Cox (who uses they/them pronouns and identifies as two-spirit) says they were “hacked and swatted.” The 39-year-old machine learning engineer’s abusers found them through a legal document from which their phone number had not been redacted. 

Getting their life back together since has required “extraordinary measures,” and Cox is currently living “off the grid” with their children. They have given up a month’s rent on a costly California apartment, they say, and worked hard to recover their hacked accounts without being discovered before settling down in their new location.

Cox is among the disproportionate number of Native people assigned female at birth who are subject to domestic violence in the U.S. Combined with the barriers to voting Native Americans already encounter, survivors like Cox face unique obstacles to casting ballots, says Danielle Root, voting rights associate director at the Center for American Progress, who has researched the issues that prevent domestic violence survivors from voting.

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Final rule opens Alaska's Tongass National Forest to logging

Mountain reflection in Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska. (Photo by Doug MacDougall, U.S. Forest Service, courtesy of Creative Commons)
Mountains reflection in Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska. (Photo by Doug MacDougall, U.S. Forest Service, courtesy of Creative Commons)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced its decision to exempt the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska from a rule that prohibits timber harvest and road construction. 

The final rule also changes the status of some areas from not suitable to suitable for timber harvesting.

The agency’s decision last week exempts the Southeast Alaska Tongass from a 2001 roadless rule, which prohibits timber harvest and road construction.

It opens 9.2 million acres of the temperate rainforest to logging. Proponents, including the state of Alaska, said the change would boost the economy of the region through increased logging, mining, and energy development. 

Tribes had objected to the change throughout the environmental review and permitting process. They said the changes would not bring back jobs, and instead would harm wildlife.

Navajo power company in talks over coal-fired plant

The Four Corners Power Plant is required to buy its coal from a mine owned by the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. - which courts have ruled is protected from lawsuits by environmental groups because it is an arm of the Navajo Nation government, which enjoys tribal sovereign immunity. (Photo by Tony Bennett, Arizona Public Service)
Four Corners Power Plant (Photo by Tony Bennett, Arizona Public Service)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Negotiations between New Mexico's largest electric utility and the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. could determine whether the tribe acquires a stake in one of the few remaining coal-fired power plants in the Southwest U.S.

Officials with Public Service Co. of New Mexico, or PNM, said negotiations over the Four Corners Power Plant began a few months ago.

The utility already has regulatory approval to divest itself from the neighboring San Juan Generating Station, and exiting the Four Corners plant would move it closer to being carbon-free over the next two decades.

Tom Fallgren, PNM's vice president for generation, said the utility would divest from Four Corners by December 2024 under a proposal that calls for the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. to take over all rights and obligations related to PNM's 13 percent share in the plant. 

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Oglala Sioux enact ordinance legalizing marijuana use on tribal lands

Plantacja
Marijuana plants. (Creative Commons photo)

Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted 11 to 8 this week in favor of the enactment of a new, 80-page ordinance regulating the possession and use of marijuana on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Norml reports. Members of the tribe in March initially passed a referendum in support of changing tribal marijuana laws.

The ordinance permits the use of cannabis for both patients and adults (non-patients age 21 or older). It permits tribal members to cultivate and dispense cannabis, and also allows for the establishment of social consumption facilities – which may be accessed by both tribal members and non-members.

Next, South Dakota voters will vote on a pair of statewide ballot initiatives, one to amend the state constitution to legalize possession and use of marijuana by adults, and two, establishes a medical marijuana program fo patients with serious health conditions.

The new Pine Ridge Reservation ordinance will take effect in 30 days. The Oglala Sioux Tribe is the first Native American tribe to move forward to legalize marijuana use in a state that has yet to similarly regulate it.

Under state law, the possession of any amount of marijuana is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a $2,000 fine, and a criminal record. In 2018, an estimated one out of every ten arrests made in the state was marijuana-related, according to data compiled by campaign proponents South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. Ninety-five percent of all cannabis arrests in South Dakota were for possession.

Potawatomi language program meets world language credits

SHAWNEE, Okla. (AP) — A Citizen Potawatomi Nation language department program for Oklahoma high school students is thriving. The course, which fulfills a world language credit, now serves more than 40 students in Maud, Shawnee, Tecumseh and Wanette public school districts, double enrollment from last year.

The tribe, in a prepared statement, said the program’s interactive digital platform helps fill a gap in students’ education, especially at rural schools where world language courses aren’t offered. In 2019, the Oklahoma State Board of Education certified the Potawatomi school curriculum for the next five years.

“Part of the increase in the course’s enrollment numbers can certainly be attributed to a greater need for homeschooling and virtual options during the pandemic,” said CPN Language Department Director Justin Neely. “This program can be offered at any high school in Oklahoma because it’s designed to be self-paced. Videos, tests and quizzes are built into a self-contained interface, making it incredibly easy to navigate.”

The course is free, although computer access, an internet connection and an adult to monitor progress are required for participation.

“There are a few Indigenous students enrolled in the class, including several from the Citizen Potawatomi and Sac and Fox nations and the Hopi Tribe. Even so, the majority of participants are non-Native,” Neely said. “Through this course, we hope young people from all backgrounds will gain a greater understanding of our tribe and culture by studying our language.”

Story by the Associated Press

Watch: All bodies have breast tissue

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The American Indian Cancer Foundation's deputy director Melissa Buffalo, Meskwaki Nation | Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, joins Wednesday's newscast to talk about the foundation's efforts to raise awareness on early breast cancer screenings for both men and women.

"As a national organization, our goal is to reach as many communities as possible, Buffalo said. "Raising the awareness, increasing the capacity and also educating our community members and our leaders on the importance of screening."

Plus, national correspondent Dalton Walker is back on the show with more information surrounding the closure of Phoenix Indian Medical Center's OB-GYN clinic.

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