Indian Country headlines for Wednesday

In this May 2019 photo, hundreds form a line on the edge of the Billings, Montana, Rimrocks for an event honoring missing and murdered Indigenous people. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP, File)

Indian Country Today

Stories we're following: Bills on missing and murdered Indigenous head to president, U.S. COVID-19 rate hits new high, changing rules leave tribes struggling to spend COVID-19 relief funds, and more

MMIW bills head to president's desk

Two critical pieces of legislation addressing the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis are headed to President Donald Trump’s desk for final approval.

Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act passed the U.S. House on Monday. Their companion bills in the Senate passed earlier this year.

The measures are aimed at increasing collaboration between tribes, law enforcement and the federal government in information and data sharing to enhance crime prevention efforts in Indian Country.

Savanna’s Act, which is named for Savanna Greywind of the Spirit Lake Nation, was introduced by former North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp last session and was reintroduced this session by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

US death toll from coronavirus hits 200,000

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus Tuesday topped 200,000, the highest in the world. The new high comes six weeks before an election that is expected to be a referendum in part on President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis, The Associated Press reported.

U.S. COVID-19 numbers are still climbing. Deaths are running at close to 770 a day on average. A widely cited University of Washington model predicts the U.S. toll will double to 400,000 by the end of the year as schools and colleges reopen and cold weather sets in.

For five months, America has led the world by far in the number of confirmed infections — nearly 6.9 million as of Tuesday — and deaths. The U.S. has less than 5 percent of the globe’s population but more than 20 percent of the reported deaths.

Black, Hispanic and Native American people have accounted for a disproportionate share of the deaths, underscoring the economic and health care disparities in the U.S.

Coronavirus aid: Too many strings, not enough relief for tribes

Tribal leaders are struggling to spend the $8 billion in COVID-19 relief allocated earlier this year by Congress, as changing federal rules and guidelines raise concerns they may be forced to pay back any money misspent. 

Although the funds are needed for supplies, equipment, hiring and efforts to keep members safe from the coronavirus, many tribes are awaiting clarification before dipping into the pot of federal money, said Crow, Gila River, Tlingit, and Mdewakanton Dakota tribal leaders at a recent panel hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

Prairie Island Indian Community President Shelley Buck, Mdewakanton Dakota, speaking on a panel on COVID-19 relief funding. (Screenshot Sept. 2020)
Of the coronavirus relief funds for tribes, Prairie Island Indian Community President Shelley Buck, Mdewakanton Dakota, said, “We’re almost afraid to use the money because we don’t want to have to pay it back,” she said. “So we’re still trying to make a plan of what we’re going to use it on, and hope and pray that the Treasury doesn’t change the guidelines after-the-fact on us. (Screenshot Sept. 2020)

Ginsburg to be 1st woman to lie in state at US Capitol

The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will lie in state inside the U.S. Capitol on Friday, becoming the first woman in history so honored.

Starting Wednesday, Ginsberg will lie in repose at the Supreme Court. The public will have the chance to pay their respects from about 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, and from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, under the portico at the top of the courthouse steps.

(Related article: Indigenous reactions of Justice Ginsburg’s death)

Short film shows land defenders’ activities before president’s visit

Tuesday the nonprofit, philanthropic and advocacy group NDN Collective released the five-minute “Hesapa - A Landback Film,” as the first in its Landback film series.

The short piece was produced by NDN Collective Creative Producer and filmmaker Willi White, Oglala Lakota, and premiered on Facebook and YouTube.

The film documents the days leading up to President Donald Trump’s visit to the homelands of the Oceti Sakowin and Mount Rushmore, and the arrest of 21 Land Defenders that day. NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen and LANDBACK Campaign Director Krystal Two Bulls were among those arrested.

On July 3, hours before Trump's arrival, Land Defenders blocked access to Mount Rushmore. The protest reignited the tribe’s long fight for the United States to live up to the terms of the 1868 Laramie Treaty, which included the Black Hills in the reservation set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people.

Top of p. 1 of the Laramie Treaty of 1868, in which the United States promised the Black Hills to the Great Sioux Nation shall be "set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians herein named," (Photo courtesy of National Archives)
Top of p. 1 of the Laramie Treaty of 1868, in which the United States promised the Black Hills shall be "set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians herein named...the Sioux Nation of Indians." (Photo courtesy of National Archives)

National Museum of the American Indian to reopen

The Smithsonian will reopen the National Museum of the American Indian on Friday with new measures to protect public health.

It will reopen with new health and safety measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and with reduced days and hours of operation. The Smithsonian is also reopening the National Museum of American History on the same day.

Visitors will need to reserve free timed-entry passes for both locations. The museum is located on the National Mall.

For additional information on the museum and safety measures, click here.

Watch: Raising voter awareness in North Dakota

Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day, and all across the country people are urging others to register to vote.

When it comes to Indian Country, it's always a challenge to get out the Native vote, and this year COVID-19 presents new hurdles. Extra measures are needed to ensure the health of voters and poll workers.

In North Dakota, three determined Native women from the Three Affiliated Tribes — the Nu'Eta, Hidatsa and Arikara nations — are coming together to raise even more voter awareness.

Tuesday's newscast features Prairie Rose Seminole, a policy analyst with the Indigenous Environmental Network; Twyla Baker, president of the Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College; and Rep. Ruth Buffalo, the North Dakota State House Representative for District 27.

The newscast wraps up with an interview with the author of an attention-grabbing Indian Country Today story. When the announcement was made that two tribes are going to start helping with the testing of the coronavirus vaccine, it caused some controversy among tribal citizens. National correspondent Mary Annette Pember talks about covering the story.

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Comments (2)
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Daniel Rood
Daniel Rood

Nowadays it is an extremely hard situation with the COVID in different parts of the world!


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