Indian Country headlines for Tuesday

Drying tobacco leaves (Photo by Ikhlasul Amal, courtesy of Creative Commons).

Indian Country Today

Stories we’re following: Yakima tobacco company files for bankruptcy; healing power of wild rice transcends pandemic; first presidential debate set for Tuesday; Obama endorses Native candidates; and more.

Tobacco grower files bankruptcy over disputed tax bill

A dispute over federal taxes has pushed a Yakima reservation tobacco company to file for bankruptcy.

King Mountain Tobacco Company Inc. filed for Chapter 11 protection Friday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Washington, according to New Generation Research.

King Tobacco notes it has estimated assets of $28.6 million and estimated liabilities of $92.4 million. The company owes $75.5 million to the Department of the Treasury, and $75.5 to the Tobacco Tax &Trade Bureau, as well as funds to the Department of Agriculture, the state of Indian, the Food and Drug Administration, and the state of South Carolina.

The company filed for bankruptcy to avoid having to close its doors.

In the bankruptcy declaration CEO Truman J Thompson cited "hurdles" to business development on Native American Reservations, the dominant role of Big Tobacco in the marketplace, unscrupulous business partners and its "firmly held belief" in its tax exempt status under a Native American tax treaty as leaving it unable to pay a $75.5 million federal excise tax bill.

A levy on assets would likely result in the cessation of its operations and the loss of jobs on the Yakama Nation Reservation.

Healing power of wild rice harvest transcends pandemic

Every fall, Ojibwe head to the river and lake sloughs surrounding the Great Lakes region to manoominike, or make wild rice, in two-person teams in canoes.

One person stands in the rear of the canoe, propelling it forward through the rice beds with a long pole, while the other person sits in the front, bending the rice stalks with two wooden sticks and knocking the grains into the bottom of the canoe. Some of the grains fall back into the water during the process, thus allowing the manoomin, or wild rice, to reseed itself.

The annual manoomin harvest goes from late August until mid to late September on as it has for time immemorial. This year is no different with the global pandemic altering nearly every aspect of human life.

Since harvesting manoomin is by nature a safe, social-distanced activity, it is providing a much-needed sense of normalcy to life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Manoominike is the perfect antidote for us now, especially after being worried and cooped up inside for so long,” says Philomena Kebec of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Wisconsin.

First presidential debate is Tuesday

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will debate each other for the first time Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace will moderate the debate in Cleveland, Ohio. This the first of three presidential debates scheduled for September and October.

Obama endorses Native candidates

Former President Barack Obama has released a second round of endorsements, and the list included four Native candidates.

“I’m proud to endorse these outstanding Democratic candidates who will work to get the virus under control, rebuild the economy and the middle class, and protect Americans’ health care and pre-existing conditions protections,” Obama tweeted Friday. “Support these candidates — and vote early if you can.”

He endorsed Christina Blackcloud, Meskwaki, who is running for a state House seat in Iowa; Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, of Kansas who is seeking reelection; Kai Kahele, Native Hawaiian, who is running for an open U.S. House seat in Hawaii; and Amanda White Eagle, Ho-Chunk, who is running for Wisconsin state assembly.

Indigenous street vendors talk fry bread, offering a taste of the 'rez'

If you’re ever in Phoenix and get a hankering for mutton stew, buffalo tenderloin, or blue corn fry bread, check out the website Native Frybread Sales Phoenix. It shows where you can get those as well as other Indigenous favorites. It also shows where you can find freshly butchered bags of mutton and Picadilly, diced pickles plunged into a frosty fruit slush.

Loren Emerson, Colorado River Indian Tribes, of Emerson Fry Bread said Diné roast mutton sandwiches are a favorite at his food truck.

Michael Washington, Pima, Maricopa and Tohono O’odham, keeps The Stand open in memory of his wife, Cindy who died last year. She started the grab-n-go restaurant by selling bean and cheese fry bread sandwiches.

Screen Shot 2020-09-28 at 7.11.32 PM
(Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

Denella Benin, Diné, a proponent of Indigenous foods, gives lectures on how to incorporate foods native to the Southwest into modern cooking. She hopes to strike fry bread from menus though, because it’s loaded with fats linked to circulatory disease and diabetes.

Native American tribes in Texas rally to increase voter turnout

Cecelia Flores, Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, wants other tribal members in East Texas to understand how their vote affects their top priorities: work and livelihood.

She points to an electronic bingo facility run by the tribe, which employs more than 700 locals and was threatened with closure. A federal bill was filed in July 2019 to protect the facility, but was opposed by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who is up for reelection in November.

Other Native American groups, like San Antonio-based American Indians in Texas, are also working toward increased voter participation.

Karla Aguilar, the group’s developmental director, held a get-out-the-vote parade recently in Bexar County, Texas. She said overall mistrust of the government, and a history of erasure, contribute to low participation.

Aguilar said the group hopes to increase visibility on issues like the lack of a Texas Indian commission and climate change, and to create conversations centered around Native Americans.

Across the country, Native American and Alaska Natives turn out to vote in lower numbers than other racial and ethnic groups by 1 to 10 percent. The 2010 Census, showed 315,000 people who identified as American Indians or Alaska Natives in Texas.

NAJA announces 2020 National Native Media Award winners

The Native American Journalists Association announced this year's winners in its annual awards competition.

Indian Country Today reporter Aliyah Chavez won first place in Best Elder coverage for her story on LaDonna Harris. Reporter Mary Annette member received honorable mention in Excellence in Beat Reporting for her "MeToo in Indian Country" coverage.

A virtual ceremony is set for 4 p.m. ET on Oct. 15. Earlier this year, the association postponed its annual conference to next September in Phoenix.

For a full list of winners, click here.

Listen: The CDC doesn't know enough about coronavirus in tribal nations

Indian Country Today Deputy Managing Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye was a recent guest on NPR. Bennett-Begay talks about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's data on tribal nations and her work for Indian Country Today.

Watch: Seattle's public schools are pandemic ready

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, many schools were on spring break and made the decision to cancel school for the rest of the year. Now, with the fall semester starting, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, explains how schools are faring.

Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter based in Washington, D.C., and is also featured in Monday’s newscast. He’s been covering the recent CARES Act ruling, plus the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's Bills.

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