Surviving a third pandemic

We speak with the chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians to see how the tribe is faring in this global health crisis. Plus we’ll tell you how the pandemic played a role in changing tribal enrollment.
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For the past year we have asked many tribal leaders about how the coronavirus has impacted their people and their economies. We’ve heard many stories, some familiar and others unique to the tribe. Joining us today is Mark Macarro. He’s the chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in southern California. 

The coronavirus created several issues for tribes such as putting people on lockdown and closing tribal businesses and services. Perhaps one unexpected outcome of the pandemic is the increase in tribal enrollment. Kalle Benallie joins the show to talk about how COVID-19 helped increase the population of the Navajo Nation. 

A slice of our Indigenous world

  • Leaders from the Bay Mills Indian Community are banning the Enbridge pipeline from the straits of Mackinac in Michigan. 
  • The Biden administration is appointing a third Native American to be a U.S. district court judge. 
  • A process to avoid cultural miscues during graduation, didn’t help one family. 
  • A new report from the Labor Department is showing higher prices for everything from food and clothes to housing. 
  • Sesame Street is looking for puppeteers and performers who are Native American.

*Correction: The Iñupiaq high school senior who had his sealskin graduation cap confiscated Did follow the process to wear it during the ceremony. We apologize for the error.

Find more details on these stories at the top of today's newscast.

Some quotes from today's show

Mark Macarro:

"Well first, our hearts go out to all our fellow Indian people from all over Indian Country. I think every nation appears to have been touched by the pandemic. And so our hearts go out to them for all our lost loved ones during this pandemic period. Just like everywhere else, I think the the pandemic has certainly had its impact in Southern California and even with our tribe. I also want to tie this into something historical because for our people, this is probably the third pandemic that I think we have dealt with since the late 17 hundreds."

"Certainly the first was with father Serra and the onset of the missions. And when he created the mission system in Southern California, and the one that impacted my tribe the most. We didn't have immunity to what they brought and suffered probably a 90 percent population loss at that point in time. I can tell you the thought of a pandemic, bearing its head over a year ago, such as it did. It was certainly a frightening prospect. But the second time was the influenza of 1918, which also affected our people tremendously and in a very rapid way."

"So the spacing is just long enough for everybody to almost forget that these things have happened, unfortunately. And so I will say that our community without going into any numbers or anything, our community has certainly felt the direct impact of COVID. And it's been sudden it's been tragic and it's been something that I think we've all pulled together around and try to find new and safer ways of doing things as well."

Kalle Benallie:

"Well the tribe did their own tribal enrollment and for the CARES Act. And so they had over 300,000 records that they collected and they digitized them, collected them. Cause some of the older ways of recording them were outdated. And so they really updated a lot and they received about over 293,000 applications for the hardship program. So they really updated their methods and have surpassed the Cherokee nation and having the largest tribal enrollment."

"Well the Cherokee nation just congratulated the Navajo nation on their increase in population. They said they're just really excited to see numbers and stuff to show that there are natives in the United States. The office of controller Pearlene Kirk just said that she was really excited to see these numbers and to finally validate all of these certificates of Indian blood and really get a more accurate number of the Navajo nation."

"There's different ways that a lot of tribes, Alaskan Natives and Native Americans get counted. The US census is done every 10 years and and then they have the American Community survey and that's done every year, but then that has a lot of different questions and doesn't really focus on race or ethnicity. And it's concerning this tribal enrollment is done by the tribes. So their numbers reflect a little more accurately."

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

Kalle Benallie, Navajo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @kallebenallie Benallie is based in Phoenix

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