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Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today

Friday is Indian Country Today's Reporters’ Roundtable, it’s a chance to hear from Native Journalists. Guests include Luella Brien, the general manager of Bighorn County News in Hardin, Montana. And Ramona Marozas, she is a multi-platform producer at WDSE and WRPT in Duluth, Minnesota.

A few comments from Luella Brien:

“We have a lot to cover a lot of different jurisdictions to cover and it's really fun. There's about five of us. I have one and a half journalists on my team and we stretch ourselves very thin to get as much as we can in the paper every week.”

“It's really interesting to see how this is all playing out because as much as our health department at the IHS clinic and the county is pushing mask wearing and social distancing, we're still seeing public gatherings, large public gatherings, unmasked public gatherings. We're still seeing people fighting with our government, local governments about not wearing masks and ‘it's my personal right and I'm an American’ and all of that.”

“We're up to our 16th death in the County, which, you know, there's about 1,300 people who live in Bighorn County. So that's a lot of people. Part of the reservation is in Yellowstone County. So if we look at the deaths on the Crow reservation, we're probably closer to 25. And so everyone on the Crow Indian reservation knows someone who has been directly affected by a death from the COVID virus.”

“If you've been paying attention to the Crow tribe, there's a lot of dysfunction going on right now in our tribal government. And it's been shut down right, right now because of the virus. So really there's a skeleton crew working, basically enrollment is the only office that's open. So the funeral assistance that was normally offered, you know, previous to this virus is not being offered now and a lot of the families have been starting online fundraisers to get funerals paid for.”

“The cost has increased for funerals at the local funeral home and a lot of people are struggling. So, you know, everyone's doing what they can to donate 10 or $20 here and there when they can. But when half of the tribal population works at the tribe and they're all on furlough, there's not much they can do to help each other.”

“Most of the schools on the reservation are going online and that's because the tribe has a stay at home order in place. So most of them are online.”

“Right now Bighorn County is under extreme red-flag warnings. So we actually just had a big fire breakout on Wednesday. It burned right off of the reservation line, so Northern Cheyenne, BIA, Wildland Fire Management took that fire and it burned about 10,000 acres before they could contain it because of high winds. And then further East on the other side in Rosebud County, there was another fire, and so there were simultaneous fires burning. On one end of the Bighorn County side, they were evacuating West and on the Rosewood County side, they were evacuating East and it was all due to high winds and red flag fire danger.”

“It was pretty intense until the winds died down, but there were fire crews there … fire crews from the Forest Service, from the BIA, from the counties, from the State. Luckily our fire crews have highly maintained and productive mutual help agreements, so they know how to work together and they know how to get things done.”

Ramona Ramozas:

“I'm so lucky to be with Native Report covering stories across Indian country for season 16. I'm working on a story called, ‘Art Heals: The Jingle Dance Project.’ Photographer Eugene Tepahe, his family, and two friends are taking the healing power of the jingle dress to the land and the members of their members of the Diné, Navajo Nation down South. And they have a goal to travel and capture a series of images that will document spiritual places, where our ancestors once walked, just beautiful, beautiful imagery.”

“I'm so excited to tell you about this mural. The process of covering the making of this mural has been so amazing. So people have been noticing a mural in Duluth and that is being led by two female Natives. Fond Du Lac descendant Moira Villiard and Red Cliff Band member Michelle Defoe are the leading artists on this project and community members are even helping step in paint this mural.”

“The design was created by Villiard and the concept is aiming to bring color and life to a community resource center in Duluth's Lincoln park neighborhood, utilizing Anishinaabe symbolism to provide insight into some of the city's Indigenous history.”

“The lower portion of the mural utilizes design submitted by youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. The dragonflies are a symbol of resilience and transformation and serve as a relevant reminder of our need today to grow and transform our lives in ways that allow us to live fully.”

Luella Brien:

“And like for me as a journalist watching these offices opened across the country during an election year, it just feels a little too well timed for these offices to open. And watching Peggy Flanagan's reaction to the action was that, you know, this is essentially lip service, you know, Bighorn County, Yellowstone County and Rosebud County are the hot spot for MMIP [missing and murdered Indigenous persons] cases in America.”

“The tri-county region is the most active place in this country for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. And for them to come in and open an office is all well and good, but what have they been doing the last 40 ...50 years? We've had people go missing for decades and nothing's been done. We've had people being murdered and the perpetrators would play down their cases to misdemeanors and manslaughter and second degree manslaughter. How are those cases being made?”

“I don't necessarily think that opening an (MMIW) [missing and murdered Indigenous women] office in an election year is the right choice, but the work that Charlene Sleeper is doing, I think is better because she's reaching out into the community, she's listening to their stories and she's working to get actual justice done. She is working with police, she's making actual human connections between investigators and victims and victim advocates and getting things actually done.”

“Well, Bighorn County stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if they don't get close to, 90 to a hundred percent (census) count. So what Western Native Voice is actually doing a lot of the groundwork for the census and Western Native Voices is a pretty good organization. So they are doing a lot of popup sites.”

“They're doing drive ups so people will drive up and they ask them questions and they fill it out on the website with their tablets and they enter them into a raffle. And so people are driving through and then they do a drawing for Visa gift cards and do it all online. So they're getting a lot of good responses. Crowe had a 8% response rate, which is frankly embarrassing. We are well over 10 percent now 2-3 weeks later.”

Ramona Ramozas:

“I've been following this group in this area of my area of Minnesota for a while now, their mission is centered around patrolling and searching for missing and murdered Indigenous women in relatives and engaging in harm reduction, reductive practices to minimize the numbers in this.”

Also in the newscast, Deputy Managing Editor Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest positive COVID-19 test numbers in Indian Country.

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider. Based in Phoenix, Arizona. Talahongva enjoys hiking, reading and traveling to new places.

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