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Indian Country Today's reporter roundtable: Panelists explore rising COVID rates, mascots, and Oklahoma after the McGirt decision.

This week's reporters are Tyler Thomas, executive editor of the Cherokee Phoenix. Tyler earned his Bachelor’s in Journalism from the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2012. He has been editor of the Phoenix since December of last year.

We will also hear from Mary Annette Pember. She is a national correspondent with Indian Country Today and Red Cliff Ojibwe. She is based in Cincinnati.

And ICT’s Deputy Managing Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye.

Comments from the reporters. 

Tyler Tomas

In the past week, we've seen a real rise in cases throughout the entire state and also in the region that we're in the 14 counties of Northeastern Oklahoma that make up the Cherokee Nation, cases are on the rise there. In the last seven days, we've seen a 20 percent increase in the total cases and we've seen a number of deaths slightly increased too. 

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What kind of gives us hope is that the active cases are kind of remaining at a steady rate, even though we have seen some increase but it's still alarming whenever you're seeing the number of cases that have started to pop up each and every day. 

This week alone, we had days where we were having 800, 900 even 1,000 new cases per day. And it was very alarming, especially whenever you're seeing that the state of Oklahoma is not really being proactive in the response. It is giving us some assurance that the Cherokee Nation administration has been proactive in their approach to combat this pandemic. But there is some concern, especially with the recent rise in cases.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

A lot of tribes are exercising their sovereignty. Even though maybe they'd be in some states where there's not many restrictions or preventative measures in place, a lot of tribes who have existing borders are closing those borders and having checkpoints and telling people, or the tribal citizens, you can not leave. Or if you come back in, you're going to get tested. 

I know at some pueblos, they're even not allowing their own pueblo citizens who live outside the public to not come in because they are a small community, right? They have, you know, like 900, like very few thousands of people in the community. So one person can start a huge outbreak in a smaller community.

Some tribes like the Colville Tribes out west they are taking extreme measures and closing down their offices and borders for the entire year until December 31st. They're really concerned. And also a lot of tribes are making masks a requirement when neither they're out in public. The Navajo nation is implementing the first of the month grocery store shopping to prevent elders from getting sick.

Mary Annette Pember

I began looking into the history and found that much of it was based on social, pop culture from, if you will, from the late 19th and early 20th century, that was really highlighting an Indian who never was.""When we start thinking about the late 19th century, the Native population was reduced considerably and also that was a period, as we know, when our rights and our lands were severely reduced. And this began to emerge in popular culture about sort of a nostalgia for quote unquote, the 'noble savage.' And there's even some thought that by kind of elevating, neither people's ferocity and strength, it excused some settler guilt for killing so many people.""That inspired things like dime novels of the era, which was like a significant source of entertainment and Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows where they created sort of a tribalist Indian, roughly based on the Plains Indian, you know, borrowing some elements of those folks, regalia and clothing, and that gave birth to this sort of stereotyped representative of all 500 tribes for a lot, the greater part of the American citizenry.""This nostalgia then gave birth to this universal Indian who then thus gave birth to these sports mascots. It was sort of considered a way to inspire athletic teams with incentive to overcome their competitors."

Mark Trahant anchor's Indian Country Today this week. Also on the broadcast is Washington editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye.