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Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

“This is an abdication of our charge and responsibility.”

That’s how Commissioner Debo Adegbile put it after the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights failed to approve the full text of the report “COVID-19 in Indian Country.”

The document would have provided updates to the historic commission report "Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans," released in 2018.

A vote to publish commissioners’ statements also failed to pass Friday. Publishing statements is common practice in lieu of a report, according to Chair Catherine Lhamon.

Commissioner Michael Yaki was disappointed in the results of both votes, which failed at 4-4.

“This is unprecedented in my 15 years on the commission to go through this process and not even do commissioners' statements,” Yaki said.

In May, the commission voted unanimously to examine the impact COVID-19 was having in Indian Country.

“The needs our investigation uncovered are staggering,” Lhamon said.

The investigation found tribal citizens experienced the highest hospitalizations rate of any racial or ethnic group, and were second only to Black people in death rates from the disease.

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The investigation also found that at the beginning of the pandemic in March, the entire Indian Health System had 81 ventilators available nationwide, 37 Intensive Care Unit beds and 1,257 hospital beds available.

The Indian Health System serves more than 2.5 million people.

New Mexico Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland, Jemez and Laguna Pueblo, and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren put out a joint statement condemning the decision. 

“Today’s vote to censor not just the report, but any official Commission statements on the pandemic’s impact on Native Americans, is disgraceful and a missed opportunity, especially because tribal communities have been disproportionately impacted by the virus,” the statement said. “It also reinforces a pattern of the federal government minimizing and disregarding the needs of — and obligations to — Native Americans.”

The original “Broken Promises” report detailed years of underfunding and substandard data collection in Indian Country, and found that programs meant to help tribes were inefficient in accomplishing their goals. 

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. For hot sports takes and too many Lakers tweets, follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email -

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