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Reporters' Roundtable: Biden campaign meets with tribal leaders

On the Reporters' Roundtable, Indian Country Today Correspondent Carina Dominguez talks about a Biden-Harris meeting with tribal leaders in Phoenix. Plus Reporter Frank Vaisvilas from Green Bay Press Gazette has an update on how the coronavirus is impacting Wisconsin tribes.
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Every Friday we are joined by reporters covering Indian Country to understand what's happening in their area and how tribes are doing in this pandemic during this election and census year.

Our own correspondent Carina Dominguez was in Phoenix as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris met with Arizona tribal leaders. Carina explains what was covered in the meeting and in the newly released plan for tribal nations. Plus, we have on Green Bay Press Gazette reporter Frank Vaisvilas, Yaqui. Though the tribes in Wisconsin didn't see a huge impact from COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic, Vaisvilas says there's an upswing in Coronavirus statistics from tribes in the state.

Some quotes from today's show

Carina Dominguez:

Biden released their tribal nations plan. Biden and Harris, they were campaigning together yesterday  at the Heard museum. They were able to flush out a couple of important issues for Native people. Among those was tribal sovereignty. They also plan on investing in economic opportunities as well as infrastructure. That was one of the common themes that I heard when I was talking to most of the leaders. They're also talking about you know, protecting watersheds, restoring wetlands and things like that. But other topics included the department of justice criminal justice reform, you know, addressing some of these jurisdiction issues that get in the way of protecting our women and children.

Governor Lewis was very pleased with everything that he heard under that Biden and Harris plan. I did talk to them after the meeting, and Hopi chairman Tim Nuvangyaoma was also very excited. All the tribal leaders that I spoke to were very pleased with what they heard in that meeting. They just want to make sure that there's some teeth behind it. They don't want to pay lip service to these issues. They want to make sure that they actually get addressed. So part of that is actually making sure that we elect Natives. That we hire Natives, that they're in all branches of government from the federal level, state level, and local level.

President Jonathan Nez from the Navajo nation did allude to the fact that Native America has been largely matriarchal historically. He was very excited to have the possibility of a woman being in the White House. Someone like her, who's such a strong woman. It was very unexpected the way they made it seem was you don't really get to ask any questions. You can try, but no guarantees Biden's going to answer. But we were very pleased. Another Native journalists and I got a little bit of an exclusive look into the event. So when we were standing nearby, Biden actually stopped and he talked to us and made a promise that they'd pick up where he had left off last time he was in office.

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The Biden/Harris bus tour is going on right now. And it actually kicked off on the Navajo nation. Which President Nez did speak about a little bit. Biden was in Phoenix and Tempe yesterday meeting with business owners who were impacted because of the pandemic. One woman in particular that he talked to, who now operates a café, she  said she had to basically downsize and was struggling with health and medical bills during that time. In that plan he does lays out ways for getting the necessary infrastructure in place for water needs. Making sure that tribes have plumbing. Not only that, but other road infrastructure and broadband was another big thing. So he does have a plan in place for addressing these pandemic related issues.

Frank Vaisvilas:

Tribes had a pretty good handle on it. They were very diligent with their health regulations with the social distancing and with the mask requirements. But that all changed just this past month, in the past few weeks. The entire region has been spiking with COVID-19 cases.  

Some health officials believe there was a lax in some of the rules that people were following with respect to social distancing. People having a meeting, they've been gathering and seeing family members. And in Forest County in Northern Wisconsin. There's two reservations. The Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa as well as the Forest County Potawatomi Community. But an off reservation event drew 45,000 people over Labor day weekend. And social media posts show many not socially distancing. And many not wearing masks at an off road racing event. And then to top it off, they had another event two weeks later, which drew another 15,000 people. There's also these off reservation bars that are not enforcing any social distancing or requiring masks. So that's led to a major spike in Northeast Wisconsin.

All of the hospitals are near capacity now. Governor Evers is issuing new orders for all stores and restaurants to be only at 25% capacity now. Some people with non Coronavirus related issues are having to be sent further away from their homes. To other ends of the state that are not experiencing quite as high rates of COVID-19 activity. Closures have just been extended actually to October 19th for many reservations. As far as I know, gaming operations are closed, and restaurants are closed. There's still some grocery stores still open and gas stations obviously. They’re trying to clamp down, trying to get a handle on the spread. There was hybrid learning going on for a while and student had met in person. But now it's all virtual because of the COVID-19 spike. The Menominee reservation has a curfew from 10:00 PM until 6:00 AM. And there is a $500 fine for people violating some of the emergency orders. So yes, they are really, trying to clamp down and trying to make sure that people are obeying the rules.

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. She is also the anchor of the weekday newscast. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

Carina Dominguez, Pascua Yaqui, is a correspondent for the Indian Country Today Newscast. She covers news, politics and environmental issues. She’s most familiar with southwest tribes and splits her time between Phoenix, AZ and New York, NY. Email her at and follow her on Twitter: @Carinad7 and Instagram: @CarinaNicole7.

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