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Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today

Across the country the American Civil Liberties Union works with Native communities on a range of disparities. They do this work through Indigenous Justice programs. Among some of the issues they are tackling right now are voting rights and education. 

Guests today include Sharen KickingWoman, Gros Ventre and Blackfeet, and the Indigenous Project Manager for the ACLU based in Montana. She is a scholar, activist, and policy professional. KickingWoman is a former Senate page, a White House intern and she worked as a legislative assistant for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.  

Crystal Pardue, Chumash, is an Equal Justice Works Fellow for the ACLU and she's based in Washington state. Pardue has a bachelor's degree in political science from Portland State University and a law degree from The University of Washington. She focuses on issues in education. 

Here are some comments from KickingWoman: 

"The ACLU has long been invested in working with Indigenous communities and tribes, whether that be through legal advocacy and litigation or working directly in communities." 

"Overall, we seek to uplift Indigenous people, communities and tribes through community directed and integrated legal advocacy work." 

"We wanna make sure that we are getting to the injustices and we know that it's not just racial justice alone, but it's a mix of the complexity of political and sovereignty issues."

"At the ACLU, one of the things we believe and it's in our Montana constitution is that all students have access to this education that is equitable and that's high quality."

"We recently published a report at the end of last year, and we looked deeply into the data, about the discipline in Montana's public schools." 

"And we found overwhelmingly that Indigenous students are disproportionately impacted by all types of discipline, whether that's out of school expulsions, referrals to law enforcement officers and even all the way up to arrest that are school-related."

"That's something that we're extremely concerned about is really the implications of what it means when you take a student out of the classroom. And so what we analyzed is the amount of days loss is what we called it when they're losing that instruction. And we know that this leads to lower graduation rates. And later down the line, when you think about the access to jobs, lower salaries, things like that."

"And, and it causes a student to have a higher chance of being ensnared and the criminal legal system. So these are all the things that we're concerned about for our communities and our youth because we want to make sure that they're safe and they're set up for success."

"Out of all students, Native females were actually the most disproportionately impacted where they were 12 times more likely than their white female peers to be arrested or suspended, when they make up only a small percentage of the student population and they are overrepresented in the amount of times they're arrested, that's when it could be really concerning."

"I was reminded when I was in the community that you shouldn't talk about Indigenous struggles without also talking about Indigenous resilience. And so all of our findings weren't all bad. We found several schools that serve 100% Native students who had no days lost."

"And so we know that there's really amazing things happening in schools and there's ways we can support our students and that's strengthening things like culture and the curriculum and making sure that students have access to the appropriate people in schools, counselors, social workers, nurses, so that they have the resources there as opposed to a law enforcement officer and just relying on punishment."

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Here are some comments from Pardue: 

"In Washington state, we're seeing similarly a high numbers of discipline and the types of discipline like Sharen was talking about that takes the child outside of the classroom."

"Washington public schools went home for online learning a few months ago during the pandemic. But before then we were seeing very, very concerningly high rates of discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions."

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"We're also seeing really high rates of interactions between students and campus resource officers. So we're seeing those types of interactions get in the way of students' ability to access meaningful and high quality educational content."

"Prior to the pandemic I had planned for around this time to be going on a tour of Washington state, doing a series of 'Know Your Rights' presentations, where I would have tried to empower community members and students and their families on what their rights are with school discipline."

"It really is about finding creative ways to connect with people but that can be especially hard when broadband access issues are so high in Native communities and in Indian country. We're seeing such low rates of internet connections and such poor or weak connections to the internet."

"So what I've been doing recently is trying to really just think creatively on small groups, if that's a possibility in the future, a small distance outdoor meetings, or putting together materials that can be sent physically with brochures or that can be re pre recorded and broadcast in some way, once this connection can be established."

Here are some comments from KickingWoman on voting issues: 

"We know that this year is going to be a big year and that's something that the ACLU is hoping to be engaged in and a key player in the upcoming election cycle."

"Natives are such a huge voting block in this state. And we know that the Native population has the power to sway elections and change elections."

"We want to make sure that what we're doing is mobilizing and engaging Indian country directly because of the power that that community has and especially in rural communities and in the time of COVID-19. So we're focusing on get out the vote efforts and voter registration."

"Our focus is to really make sure that people are informed that they know the elections are coming and that they know their rights when it comes to being able to cast their ballot in November."

"And we have some really exciting efforts we're hoping to translate some of the words...into all of the beautiful Native languages that are represented here in Montana."

"We're finding that a lot of people are really engaged on Facebook and Instagram and all the new things like Tic Tok. And so we're exploring all avenues of reaching people and making sure that our content is engaging and that people feel seen." 

"And not just the young people who have social media but making sure that they're also saying, 'Hey, grandma, let's vote and let's get the whole household involved in this effort.' So that has been an exciting part, thinking about how we can really reach people in this digital time."

Oklahoma gaming compacts

Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter for Indian Country Today and he shared some highlights from his recent stories. Here are a few of his comments:

"So just yesterday, there was a federal judge who ruled that the Oklahoma tribal gaming compacts that they have with the state renewed for a 15 year term automatically on January 1 of this year."

"Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt wanted to renegotiate those compacts but the judge ruled in favor of the tribes."

"Tribal gaming operations pay, what's called an exclusivity fee, to operate within the state certain games. There's class one class two and class three gaming that included table games and bingo halls and horse racing and such."

"And the tribe currently pays, between four precent and 10 percent in exclusivity fees, which is I think around the average. Kevin Stitt wanted to renegotiate those to a higher percentage." 

"Since the tribal gaming act passed in Oklahoma in 2004, tribes have paid over a billion dollars in these fees and beyond the fees they help with infrastructure and healthcare and education within the state. And so it benefits all Oklahomans really."

"Last week there was an announced quote unquote "agreement in principle" between the Oklahoma attorney general and the five tribes of Oklahoma, that was to be sent to Congress for proposed legislation, but very quickly a couple of tribes distanced themselves from that. They don't want any congressional legislation passed that would disestablish any of the reservation boundaries in Oklahoma. And so there has been a lot of concern of a midnight rider or some sort of amendment to legislation that would essentially upend, the McGirt decision. I contacted Senator James Inhofe's office, they said that was completely untrue."

"There was also concerns that'd be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is considered must pass legislation that occurs every year that essentially funds the military. From my knowledge, when I was digging through it, I didn't see any rider attached to it. And the GOP has been slowly rolling out their, their Senate version of the next corona relief bill. And I've yet to see anything, that would disestablish any reservation boundaries."

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.

The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva.