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Western Paiute Shoshone: Still hoping for the best

On the Indian Country Today newscast for Wednesday, September 16, 2020 is guest Arlan Melendez, followed by Indian Country Today reporter Dalton Walker

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today

Chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in Reno, Nevada, Arlan Melendez says the tribe is recovering from the pandemic. He describes how being a tax-base tribe helped them fare better than they initially thought. He talks about the challenges ahead and what the next steps for the tribe are.

Indian Country Today national correspondent Dalton Walker shares information on the voluntary vaccine trial being offered on the Navajo Nation and the community's response. He also talks sports with Kansas City football and Tour de France news and tells us about two upcoming elections he's covering.

Some comments from Arlan Melendez:

"Thank you very much for inviting me. As you know, we do have two land bases about 18 miles apart but we have 1,180 tribal members of the Western Paiute Shoshone. We've been challenged since COVID first started in about March when we issued our declarations of emergency status for the tribe. And we have held those in place. We've had roadblocks on some of our roads. And so we monitor monthly and last meeting, we decided to keep them in place through the month of September...We're still hoping for the best, but it is getting better."

"We've had a number that have recovered, which is good, in the county...I think there's something like 40 plus members that actually at some point were positive. We're fortunate that we only have 10 active cases."

"We've had incident command centers through the clinic. We've had all kinds of catastrophes like floods and fires and all those different things but not the magnitude that we've seen with the pandemic of COVID."

"The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony because Nevada is a gaming state, you know I do a lot of work with the National Congress on the taxation subcommittee, so our tribe is a tax base tribe, meaning that we lease to a lot of businesses that come onto tribal land...So they fared pretty well actually, throughout the pandemic, we were able to keep our workforce in place, even though we had essential workers on the job, we had people that were on administrative leave, probably two thirds of our workforce were on administrative leave. So we only had the essential but we were, we were very fortunate to be able to keep everybody employed. We had to shut some of our shops down because lack of PPE for about three weeks. But when we finally had adequate supply we reopened again. So I think right now we're looking at our budget to see how we fare compared to the previous year and I think it's looking not as bad as we thought it would."

"That's been challenging because I know that some of the parents are reluctant to send children back to school but the school district has given options of distance learning using laptops or Chromebooks and all those different things. The challenge has been to get those computers, those Chromebooks out. The tribe has assisted with ordering additional Chromebooks for some of our students and there's still a backlog because just a number of people are ordering laptops at this time within the general population. But we're hoping to have another supply coming in that we can have some of our students working from home because the parents do have an option to either homeschool or to actually, comply with the district."

"Out here in the West now, because just this week, they've had everybody not going to school and they're all working from home and these fires have made it very difficult to breathe. And so we've kept everybody inside."

"We do a Facebook from the chairman's office, either Thursday or Friday, each week. We update them as to where we are on a number of subjects. Sometimes we'll bring expertise from the health center or the educators. We actually have an education town hall with a number of educators, principals from the local schools. We invited them all. And so we have our, parents tune into those meetings. I think we have another one on October 1st...I think it works really well."

"I know the governor in the state of Nevada has been really, advocating the awareness of face masks in the state of Nevada and we follow those. So we have all our employees wearing face masks to wear. We're working on not only the census, but get out the vote, those two things at the same time. We have a number of volunteers that are helping us with both of those initiatives."

"We've given the options to all of our people. They can mail in their vote, if they don't feel comfortable with that, we're going to have early vote. I think that's going to be about a week long. And so that's going to be good."

"Everybody has a right to protest. They want their voices heard and I think, it's like Martin Luther King said he wanted peaceful marches. And I think that's what they're trying to do. The challenge we have is when they're met by the opposition and when you bring those two groups together and when they take weapons to those encounters the possibility of that really escalating into shootings at those rallies I think that's high possibility that could happen when people are carrying their own guns."

"We're not saying that every police department is bad but there's just certain people sometimes that have to really be either let go of with the force, you know, sometimes they're still there. Reno had our challenges in the early years, but it's gotten better over the years with working with the police department, with the tribes meeting with the police chief."

Dalton Walker:
"Well with this announcement, there's still a few unknowns. What's going to happen? At the very beginning, they announced that it's voluntary for citizens with some stipulations on who's eligible and people have questions, which makes sense to us. And we're following it along because there's a lot that remains unknown."

"Yeah. The Navajo had the highest coronavirus infection rate in the country at one time but has since seen a substantial decrease one day in early September and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez reported no new cases for that date, a first since the pandemic began. And like you mentioned, the Navajo Nation has 537 confirmed deaths related to the virus and is nearing 10,000 confirmed cases according to their health department."

"Yeah that's what Nez said. We'll see. I know a lot of officials beyond Indian country are kind of doubting, this push for a vaccine, as we all know is very important, but there's also steps. And I believe this is the third step of what's happening regarding of a potential vaccine."

"Week one of the NFL season is in the books. The defending super bowl champion, Kansas City opened the season first. And once a pregame started social media, notice the words "End Racism" in the end zone which happened to be above the team's controversial nickname. With the Washington NFL team finally ending its mascot use earlier this summer some advocates turned to Kansas City, known for its 'Tomahawk Chop,' but the team didn't budge on the name but has banned headdresses and face paint from fans at home games."

"We're following Oneida cyclist Neilson Powless and the tour ends Sunday and we will have a profile of Neilson on our website hopefully this. I recently spoke with his sister Shana, who's also a professional cyclist. She talked about how the siblings grew up playing sports and how they focused on cycling as they got older."

"This is his first time being in the race. And he's the first Native person being in the race. And he has two top five finishes, which is pretty remarkable."

"We are in our busy season with general election, less than 50 days away, most of my assignments are election related, includes couple items on one that I'm hoping to finish up soon is highlighting a couple of Indigenous women running for state Supreme court, one in Michigan. And one more people are familiar with in Washington state. I'm also keeping an eye on this lawsuit that affects voters in the Navajo nation. A group wants Arizona's mail and voting requirements changed. Arizona requires all mail in ballots to be received before 7 p.m. on election day. The group is asking that all ballots count that are postmarked on our before election day and received within 10 days. It's unclear if anything will happen from the lawsuit, especially with election day being so quick but we'll keep an eye on it."

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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