Reporters' roundtable: Oregon fires, BIA dispute

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today reporters' roundtable includes Brian Bull from KLCC-FM and Joe Martin, freelance journalist

On Friday's we talk with journalists covering stories that affect tribal lands and people. Today Brian Bull joins us from Oregon to give us an update on the forest fires burning there.

Joe Martin covers the dispute the Eastern Band of Cherokee is having with the local Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent, as well as a COVID-19 updates for tribes in his region.

Some comments from Joe Martin:

"One of the issues that I've been asked about is the resolution calling for Cherokee Agency for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent William Mackie, Jr. to be reassigned. The reasoning behind this is that they accused him of being unprofessional and rude to tribal employees. And a lot of this is centering over what they called dragging his feet over the transfer of BIA headquarters to the Eastern managed Cherokee Indians."

"Other issues that I'm keeping up with is currently the pandemic and its effects on our tribe. We currently had two employees of the tribal schools test positive for COVID. 

"All in all, total we've got zero hospitalizations right now. Three deaths and 178 positive cases. The Nashville Indian health service area, which includes us and the Mississippi Choctaws has about 2,012 cases as of Wednesday."

"Currently about a little more than half of those are the Mississippi Choctaws with 1,113 positive cases and 79 deaths."

Here are some comments from Brian Bull:

"Last check there's probably about ten (forest fires) that are being monitored right now, actively by the state. At our peak a few weeks ago just around Labor Day. There were about 36 fires that were being monitored, but as they become increasingly contained and as the weather turns more fall like wetter and cooler, a lot of these fires were being better contained and subsiding quite a bit."

"So there's still an awful lot of activity and a lot of damage to monitor here. For the state of Oregon we had one million acres destroyed, 2,300 homes destroyed, about 1,600 other structures gone and also nine dead, five missing and 2,700 people who are displaced and sheltered right now. So it has been a really intense wildfire season here across the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon."

"There are a number of people who are able to go back now because they've lifted the evacuation notices. That's the other part of the difficult transition here is besides having to flee their homes, pick up and leave in the middle of the night labor day on and throughout that week."

"A lot of people are now coming back to homes that have been damaged if not destroyed by these wildfires. And they're finding themselves without water, without power without a safe environment. There's a lot of people who are being forewarned to not sift through their own home’s remnants, because there could be mercury, asbestos as well as other contaminants that are in the ash and soot."

"So this is a story that is going to continue through the fall."

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

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