Indian Country Headlines for Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Joaqlin Estus

Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado primaries; 6-month outbreak anniversary; SCOTUS strikes down Louisiana abortion law; suit over NM education to move forward; Osage layoffs; VIPs to attend virtual graduation of Indigenous class of 2020; IHS boasts high testing rates

Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado hold primaries

State primaries are taking place Tuesday in Oklahoma, Utah and Colorado, and all three states have races featuring Native candidates.

In Oklahoma, Republican U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, and Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, are expected to advance to the general election. In November, Mullin will face Danyell Lanier, Cherokee, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary in eastern Oklahoma's Congressional District 2.

Oklahomans also will vote on a state question that would mandate expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The state also has multiple Native candidates running for Legislature.

In Utah, one Native candidate — former Northwestern Band of Shoshone Nation chairman Darren Parry — is running as Democrat for an open U.S. House seat.

And in Colorado, John Ronquillo, Mexican and Chiricahua Apache, is running for an open state House seat.

June 30: ‘Six-month anniversary of the outbreak’

The World Health Organization said Monday that “the worst is yet to come” with the COVID-19 pandemic after six months.

“We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is: this is not even close to being over,” said Dr. Tedro Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the organization. “Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up.”

“The worst is yet to come,” he said.

Supreme Court strikes down Louisiana abortion clinic law

A divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices in the first big abortion case of the Trump era.

Chief Justice John Roberts and his four more liberal colleagues ruled that the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

The outcome is not the last word on the decades-long fight over abortion, with dozens of state-imposed restrictions winding their way through the courts. But the decision was a surprising defeat for abortion opponents, who thought that a new conservative majority with two of President Donald Trump's appointees on board would start chipping away at abortion access.

(Related: Abortion: Native women respond to onslaught of laws and restrictions across the country)

Anti-abortion protesters wait outside the Supreme Court for a decision, Monday, June 29, 2020 in Washington on the Louisiana case, Russo v. June Medical Services LLC. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Anti-abortion protesters wait outside the Supreme Court for a decision Monday in Washington on the Louisiana case Russo v. June Medical Services LLC. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

ICYMI: New Mexico courts will not dismiss landmark Yazzie/ Martinez education lawsuit

The state has not fulfilled the requirements of a 2018 ruling ordering substantial improvements to education for New Mexico children, a judge said Monday.

First District Judge Matthew Wilson denied a motion to dismiss a landmark education lawsuit filed by Navajo and Hispanic and plaintiffs, saying the court will continue to oversee the case until the state makes long-term, "comprehensive educational reform that demonstrate substantial improvements of student outcomes."

Monday afternoon’s virtual court hearing marked the first major event in the Yazzie/Martinez suit since the 2018 ruling, in which a previous judge decided the state had violated the constitutional rights of its at-risk students in failing to provide them a sufficient education.

"The court affirmed what tribal leaders have said all along, that the state has failed to fulfill its constitutional obligations," Regis Pecos, Cochiti Pueblo, co-director of the Leadership Institute, said after the ruling.

Osage Nation lays off 45 workers due to low revenue stream

The Osage Nation has notified 45 employees they will no longer have a job after July 6.

Due to a grim financial forecast for the Nation’s 2021 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said that every department and program director was asked to cut two positions. The layoffs and eliminated positions combined equaled 62 positions cut and saved the Nation a little over $2 million.

“We are going to have to see what our income is going to be before we can finalize our budget for the 2021 fiscal year. But, for 2020 out to Sept. 30, we don’t see any of these jobs being added back for this fiscal year,” Standing Bear said. “But, next fiscal year, Oct. 1, it depends on the income and what we receive on our distribution from the casinos. And, none of that has been decided and that will be done in conjunction with the Osage Congress and the Gaming Enterprise Board.”

The majority of individuals laid off did not meet Osage preference guidelines, which includes Osage tribal members, their spouses, or parents of Osage children. Some of the individuals were offered other jobs but not all accepted.

Saying all the employees were doing great work, Standing Bear said it was unfortunate they had to make the layoffs.

Indigenous Class of 2020 Virtual Graduation Celebration with Avengers, filmmakers, Congress and more

Protect the Sacred, a grassroots initiative created in response to the COVID-19 crisis on the Navajo Nation, is presenting the Indigenous Class of 2020 Virtual Graduation Celebration with Urban Native Era. 

This livestream celebration on Tuesday, June 30th at 5pm Pacific Time, 6pm Mountain Time, and 8pm Eastern Time will feature Native American singers, dancers, elders and leaders - Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Congresswoman Deb Haaland - as well as celebrity appearances from Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Zahn McClarnon, Sean Penn, Wilmer Valderrama, Paul Rudd, Dawn-Lyen Garnder, Chris Evans, Taika Waititi, Piper Perabo, Jewel, and Jordan Nolan.

Celebrating the class of 2020’s accomplishments amid adversity of COVID-19, this initiative aims to empower Indigenous youth as they enter the next chapter of their life. This star-studded event will encourage Indigenous young adults to shape their futures and invest in their communities by filling out the 2020 United States Census and registering to vote.

The virtual commencement can be accessed live here on June 30th, and on YouTube and Facebook afterward. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP with Protect the Sacred prior to the event but forgetting to do so does not restrict you from viewing the livestream, which will be made public for all to view. Native youth are encouraged to sign up for the Hero Challenge on Protect the Sacred’s website.

WATCH: 'Tribal nations have some of the highest testing rates in the world'

The Indian Health Service and tribal health facilities will need some 1,600 contact tracer positions in order to investigate COVID-19 outbreaks.

"This job far outstrips our capacity," said Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, Zuni, director of the Indian Health Service. He said the benchmark is one contact tracer for every 1,000 patients served, “that number in Indian Country would be quite high with 1.6 million patients being served."

Weahkee told Indian Country Today’s daily newscast: “The best contact tracers are from the communities being served. So that bodes very well for trying to identify and then train those individuals up. We need a lot of them."

Especially in the hotspots identified by IHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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